It was the same sad, frustrating story for the Toronto Maple Leafs and once again we are left wondering what comes next after failing to reach the playoffs.
Here we had a 37-year old who chose to sign with his hometown team on a minimum contract because he wanted to achieve his dream of winning a Stanley Cup with the Leafs. Now, he is being grouped together with this group that has once again failed to win a series despite being seen as the favourite.
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Twice in this series, the Leafs were shutout and in their other loss, they blew a three-goal lead. Did the Columbus Blue Jackets rely heavily on their goaltending in this series? Yes, but they also were committed to playing their style and it was effective.
Over the next few days, weeks and months there will be many questions pointed towards the Leafs and what they will need to do next. There will be a lot of questions about moves that will need to be made once again and this time, it’s tough to argue against a major shakeup.
Last season, they traded Nazem Kadri for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot and while it was the right move to make, it just didn’t work out like many anticipated. It’s also clear that trading away or adding one player likely won’t be enough either but in the salary cap era, it’s also tough to expect a major shakeup to come easily.
This time around, you can argue that toughness wasn’t to blame for the Leafs losing their series. Instead, it seemed like the team’s mental approach was an issue right from the start. Take John Tavares for example. With a chance to tie the game he hit the post with a wide-open net and from that point, the chances were far and few afterwards.
While it’s easy to harp on the negatives and to say that maybe next year will be different, it’s clear that there are pieces to work with especially when you look at how Auston Matthews performed this season making the plays at both ends which makes him the most valuable player on the team.
After Matthews, you have to really think about who would be untouchable on this roster. Morgan Rielly is probably next to Matthews and Tavares isn’t too far behind. Then you have your developing players like Rasmus Sandin and Nicholas Robertson.
Seeing Jake Muzzin go down, then losing Tyson Barrie in Game 5 also showed how unreliable the Leafs defence really is. Justin Holl struggled without Muzzin, Travis Dermott wasn’t as big of a factor then there are Cody Ceci and Martin Marincin who should never be seen in a Blue and White jersey going forward.
It will be interesting to see what Kyle Dubas and or Brendan Shanahan have to say after another disappointing season because Dubas took the blame for last year but he should be looking to share it with the players this year. The ones that got pay raises aside from Matthews didn’t step up in the way they were paid to and other than a four-minute stretch in Game 4, they didn’t play to their identity and looking for some puck luck isn’t exactly a winning formula either.
The warning signs were also evident during the season when the Leafs failed to score during their California road trip where they were outworked and shut down by teams that were significantly less talented than they were.
Maybe that’s something the front office will try to improve on but betting on it to come from the players on the roster shouldn’t be the expectation because once again they have proven that when they needed to come away with their best game, they were not capable of doing it.
What do you think the Leafs need to do after losing in Game 5? Should they be making serious changes or make minor tweaks? Let us know in the comments below.