It’s been two weeks since the Toronto Maple Leafs were unceremoniously kicked out of the NHL bubble. That’s 14 days and still no answers for Maple Leafs fans. It just doesn’t make sense. This fan base has been sold a vision of a champion, even so far as a dynasty. But the team is not even close – and more troublesome, seems to be further back.
I know, if you’re like me, you’ve heard the player interviews, you’ve listened to the front office people talk, and you’ve watched and read the commentators dissect everything. I’ll spare you a repeat. The simple fact is, the Maple Leafs are made of a roster that can win championships – in video games, not in real life.
Shana-plan Has Failed
More than six years after Brendan Shanahan became president of the club, and five seasons after the famed “scorched earth” rebuild with the Shana-plan and Toronto is trending down. Not only headed the wrong way but now completely out of excuses. Seriously, there are no excuses – and funny enough, you’ll still hear them. It was under difficult circumstances, it was just a five-game series, a hot goalie, etc. It’s time to get real and see this team is simply not good enough.
Why is this so hard to believe? Well, like it or not, Toronto is the most talked about team in the league. The Toronto fan base gets repeatedly told how great these players are – you would think the entire team is destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame if you listen and read enough. Well, the cold, hard truth is, they are not. The blinders are off – they were stripped off by the Columbus Blue Jackets – and now we see the Maple Leafs as they indeed are, not a playoff team and most certainly not a championship team.
Playoff Teams Show the Blueprint
The NHL has carried on despite the ousting of the Maple Leafs. Some outstanding hockey is being played inside the Maple Leafs fantasyland bubble by guys some people may not know about. But they are players that grind in the corners, play in the middle of the ice, sacrifice their bodies to block shots and stick up for each other. These competitors play as a unit, seamlessly interchanging pieces to stick to a winning game plan.
Related: Maple Leafs’ 50-Goal Scorers
You don’t even need to know their names; they don’t make $10 million-plus, they aren’t on billboards and video game covers. These teams don’t have four forwards who combined earn more than $40 million. The players are not learning how to play defensive hockey two weeks before the playoffs. They do not rely on the oldest guy on the team (and a non-fighter) to pick a scrap to spark his lifeless teammates.
Learn for Your Brother
Another Toronto team had good players and coaches, produced excitement for the fans, put together great regular seasons and quickly excited the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors shocked a lot of people when they fired Dwane Casey two days after he won the Coach of the Year. (from ‘Raptors fire head coach Dwane Casey,’ The Globe and Mail, 05/11/2018) Then the team shipped out the franchise’s poster boy, Demar DeRozen. The Raptors brought in a rookie head coach, and in return for DeRozen got soon-to-be free agent and injury-plagued, Kawhi Leonard. It was a risky move, but it paid off with a championship.
The team the Maple Leafs put on the ice against Columbus, is the team that Kyle Dubas under Shanahan has put together. That’s it – it doesn’t get any better. It was healthy, prepared, and on the same footing as the competition. Make no mistake, this team looks fantastic on paper. The on-ice product continues to be a work-in-progress – work we’ve been watching since 1967. Without a significant roster shake-up and/or front office change, the longest championship drought in hockey will continue for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.