The Toronto Maple Leafs entered their play-in round against the Columbus Blue Jackets as the favourites, but came away with another disappointing end to the season.
If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan you’re not surprised at this point. The team has made it a habit to let down their fan base time and time again when it matters most.
Although the Leafs were expected to beat the Blue Jackets and advance to the playoffs, the season as a whole wasn’t very good. Maybe the four month break had something to do with it, but people seem to be forgetting that this was a very average team all year.
When the pause hit in March, Toronto was battling for the third spot in the Atlantic Division and were only a few points up on the Florida Panthers. There’s no guarantee this team would have even made the playoffs.
The roster general manager Kyle Dubas has built has a very clear identity – tons of skilled high paid forwards, with a mediocre defensive core. This formula can sometimes work in the regular season, but in the playoffs it’s a different story.
Columbus just proved how important defence is by shutting down the Leafs’ top line in Game 5. Sheldon Keefe put his three best forwards together on the same line and they couldn’t score.
Sure, the Leafs had a bunch of grade A scoring chances. However, they still couldn’t get the job done, and the team with arguably “less skill” is moving on.
Toronto’s miraculous Game 4 comeback was an illusion. It gave fans false hope, the same false hope that Leafs fans start every hockey season with.
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Take away that five minute stretch of amazing hockey and you’ve got a pretty underwhelming performance from this team throughout the five-game series.
Maybe there’s a silver lining though. If Toronto had found a way to advance and somehow stumbled through a first round series against an injury-riddled Tampa Bay team, management wouldn’t be forced to do anything. Now the pressure is on Dubas and president Brendan Shanahan to make changes.
What are those changes and how easy can they be made? That remains to be seen.
Obviously the defence needs to be upgraded, but that’s easier said than done. In order to bring in a stud defenceman, you’re probably talking about trading Mitch Marner or William Nylander.
That might sound great, but it takes two teams to make a trade. Toronto can only work with what other teams are willing to do.
You can’t bring back the same group of players and expect the results to change. Dubas will have time to figure it out, but he better figure it out quick if this franchise ever hopes to turn things around.