When the Boston Bruins eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs last Tuesday night, they did more than end Toronto’s hopes for a Stanley Cup. They eliminated any hope that the Cup would return to Canada this season. The Maple Leafs were the final Canadian-based team in round one.
Canada’s Stanley Cup drought now has lasted 25 years. The last Canadian team to win the Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. Maybe next year?
Oddly, with the Maple Leafs eliminated there seems to be more news about the team now than when they were still battling the Bruins. Here is some of the Maple Leaf news and analysis being discussed this week.
Item One: Mike Babcock’s Job Security
Chris Johnston of Sportsnet noted that, when talking about the Maple Leafs’ future, Kyle Dubas didn’t offer assurance about Mike Babcock’s job security. There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Babcock and Dubas are on the same page and, with Babcock coaching the team to a second straight round one loss, the speculation is whether his job remains safe.
Johnston noted that Dubas had a chance during the days after the team’s playoff exit to say something that would confirm if Babcock would be back. Dubas did say lots about the team going forward, but he said nothing specific about Babcock’s future.
Dubas, who is often straightforward with his answers – and was about other issues – seemed more circumspect. He noted, “We could win the Stanley Cup and it would be the same discussion of evaluating where we’re at and are we content and are we moving in the right direction?”
Dubas added, “I think with how fluid the situation is I wouldn’t give any guarantee to anybody in our whole organization, starting with me. We’ll do what we think is best and we’ll let you know when we know.”
I have wondered this season whether the Maple Leafs brain trust (Dubas and Babcock) was always in agreement. In fact, I didn’t think they were. That said, in listening to Dubas talk through the reasons the team lost, it was obvious he continued to shoulder the blame for on-ice issues from the players he gave Babcock to problems on the penalty kill. That doesn’t sound like a guy who’s ready to dump his coach. My sense is both men will be back to try again next season.
Item Two: Nazem Kadri Vows to Be Different
In an interview after the Game 7 loss, Nazem Kadri told everyone in hearing distance that he regrets the “bone-headed” cross-check to Jake DeBrusk. He adamantly stated, “I can assure it won’t happen again.”
Kadri noted that he didn’t intend to hit DeBrusk in the face because that’s out of his character. He did admit that sometimes he “thinks too much with his heart as opposed to his head.”
Kadri is emotional. I’ve heard him say before that he likes to be hated in other rinks. Now, he vows he’ll control his actions towards opponents. I cannot fathom how difficult a line that will be to walk.
I like Kadri as a player and I appreciate his sincerity. He must believe he let his teammates down and, given how much he cares about them, it would be in his character to feel responsible for the series loss. That said, I can’t see things changing if he tries to cling to two contradictory actions (playing ugly and controlling himself) at one time.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Is Dubas’ Priority One
According to Dubas, his job is clear. He must first sign Mitch Marner and, if possible, do it before July 1. However, as I noted three days ago, with the salary cap issues looming and Marner coming off a hugely successful season, finding a match between desire and reality might be tough.
Dubas was blunt about his dilemma: “Without an answer on Mitch, we’re going to kind of be in a stalemate, right?” In fact, as Dubas stated, every other roster decision the team makes will be on hold until Marner’s contract is worked out.
Dubas also noted that it’s “imperative” Marner’s contract is settled before July 1, when the doors open to other teams pitching for his skills who can extend an offer sheet to him.
Neither side wants that. The Maple Leafs know Marner believes he’s living a dream playing with his home town Maple Leafs and wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. The Toronto area is his year-round home. I’m sure he won’t consider playing anywhere else. Of course, he can’t say that because making that public offers the Maple Leafs a weakness.
However, Marner did say: “I want to be here… I just want to play for this team, I love the people in this locker-room and the people that work in this organization. We’re a tight-knit group, so it’s a special group to be a part of.”
Obviously, both sides want Marner to re-sign with the Maple Leafs. How long it will take and how easy it will be is
Item Four: Brian Burke Believes Nylander Should Have Sat All Year
Brian Burke, in an interview with CBC’s Ron MacLean, blamed the Maple Leafs salary cap problems on William Nylander’s contract. First, Burke noted that Nylander’s play was “highly ineffective” all season and his “presence didn’t help the Maple Leafs this year.” Finally, Burke called Nylander’s play “abysmal in the playoffs.”
Burke believes Dubas erred by signing Nylander, and implied that his contract was the slippery slope that made Auston Matthews’ contract so huge. And, now the team will be forced to pony up for Marner, which Burke believes will be difficult. That leaves Marner and the Maple Leafs susceptible to an offer sheet.
Item Five: Zach Hyman Will Undergo Surgery for a T
During the Maple Leafs’ first-round playoff loss to the Bruins, Zach Hyman suffered a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). He’ll have surgery on Monday, but will be lost to the Maple Leafs for a minimum of six months as he heals and rehabs.
This season was Hyman’s best, scoring 21 goals and 20 assists. Once known mostly as a physical presence that rode shotgun to his more skilled, first-line partners, Hyman’s play grew stronger as the season went on. He’ll be missed.
As interested in Marner as I am, I am also interested to see what happens to three other Maple Leaf players. These are Nylander, who I think might be traded, and Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, who I would hope will stay with the team. Fun is coming.