The Toronto Maple Leafs: Go Off, Peter Mansbridge

CANADA - MARCH 01: TV Marathon: Barbara Frum and Peter mansbridge performed during gruelling day. (Photo by David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
CANADA - MARCH 01: TV Marathon: Barbara Frum and Peter mansbridge performed during gruelling day. (Photo by David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /
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This is probably the first time in weeks that you’ve spared a thought about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Somewhere out in a far away alternate universe, the 2018-19 Maple Leafs find themselves mere hours from puck drop for Game Six of their Stanley Cup Final series versus the St. Louis Blues.

The air is tense. The city is electric. The playoff beards have rendered players’ faces unrecognizable. It’s the best time of the year.

And as those same players begin to file in through the bowels of Scotiabank Arena for what will inevitably be another hard-fought instalment of an enthralling series, workers continue their around-the-clock efforts to transition the building between the Toronto Raptors’ own finals run taking place simultaneously.

The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. A squatters commune has been constructed by fans inside Maple Leaf Square. The arrest total still sits at zero.

Life is good.

Unfortunately, that reality is not the one you happen to live in. In fact, it reads as a form of fiction to anyone who does not identify as a Senior Citizen. 1967 was a long time ago, after all.

No, the Toronto Maple Leafs are not in the Stanley Cup Final at the moment. Their fans are not filling the Toronto skies with fireworks and the Toronto streets with semi-inebriated exuberance. Legions of young children are not in the early stages of developing their potentially life-long adoration for hockey. Bars and restaurants are not filled to the brim with blue and white.

No, the Leafs sit at home right now – just as they have since mid-April – longly watching their basketball-loving roommates accomplish what they apparently could not.

Amidst this disappointing reality, however, one person appears to have breached dimensions and successfully glimpsed the other.

His name is Peter Mansbridge. And he is right.

No one thing can be held entirely responsible for Toronto’s first-round defeat the hands of the Boston Bruins in Game Seven – their third such loss in six years. This failure was a total team effort in the worst way possible.

Perhaps if Nazem Kadri opts to use a single ounce of common sense and refrain from earning himself a second straight suspension in his second straight postseason series, his presence could be the key to a better outcome. Perhaps a Zach Hyman with two functioning ACLs is enough to drag an utterly listless Maple Leafs’ penalty kill back into respectability. One call, one bounce, one deflection goes the other way, and perhaps we’re sitting here reminiscing about an entirely different series.

Alas, such is hockey; built on a foundation of variables. It’s this inherent sense of chaos, in fact, that actually serves as its greatest strength, creating a sport in which anything can happen at any moment and arrive in any form.

Chaos cannot be predicted. It can, however, be managed – at least to an extent. Which means when the postseason begins and that chaos reaches its peak, those whose jobs rely upon managing it would be best suited to focus their efforts on the few aspects they can control.

Like ice time, for example. Or in-game personnel adjustments. Or systemic changes in response to one’s opponent. Or workload management throughout the regular season.

You know, duties that otherwise fall on the shoulders of the coach.

Yes, we are still talking about this. And yes, there is a reason as to why.

FS

Peter Mansbridge seems to be a pretty level-headed guy. Having spent his entire career reporting facts in a notoriously-balanced manner, he does not project himself as someone who dips his toe in the pool of unsubstantiated emotion.

This is precisely what makes Mansbridge’s recent criticism of Mike Babcock so transcendent.

He’s right. Nearly two months have passed since the Maple Leafs bowed out of the playoffs in numbing fashion, and Mansbridge is still as angry as ever. Frankly, why wouldn’t he be? The Raptors are a nightly reminder of what the Leafs otherwise had the potential to be; smart, disciplined, and prepared for the moment.

The Raptors earned the franchise’s first-ever birth to the NBA Finals from many things.

Their success is partially the doing of a coach whose repeated willingness to make systemic adjustments based on the flow of the game proved vital in high-leverage situations. They got here off the historic greatness of a superstar who, in an interview with ESPN, admitted that his performance would simply not be possible without the cautious approach taken by the Raptors when it came to his health throughout the regular season. One win away from championship glory, the collective sense of calm permeating throughout the Raptors’ locker room at the moment has them now teetering on the brink.

Again; everything the Leafs could have been, yet weren’t. Mansbridge’s sentiment rings true.

Coy as he may be, Mansbridge is simply putting into words what every conscious Leaf fan has been thinking since the events of April 23rd. The key difference here is that Mansbridge happens to be doing this without the various expletives and existentialism which typically follow.

His lesson is simple. Simple enough for the NHL’s highest-paid coach to learn.

It’s difficult to watch a load-managed Kawhi Leonard set records night after night while, when faced with a similar instance, John Tavares and Auston Matthews remained stapled to the bench as their season faded away and an over-worked Frederik Andersen succumbed to fatigue. Each rotational switch and every lineup adjustment from the mind of Nick Nurse is particularly gutting when contrasted with Babcock’s refusal to shy away from a stretch-pass breakout system the Bruins had clearly figured out. And in the case of Nazem Kadri, his temporary sanity loss wilts in the shadow of a Raptors team who, amidst courtside assaults and missing teeth, have committed a total of just two technical fouls all postseason long.

Mansbridge is merely communicating this in a far more elegant manner.

FS

Like it or not, Mike Babcock will return to the Maple Leafs bench next season. His job is secure, with the fate of a group with dynastic aspirations lying once again in his hands.

This time, however, Toronto’s path to success does not depend on the growth of their core or any offseason additions. Rather, Babcock’s willingness to evolve, and to ultimately learn from the error of his ways, will determine their ceiling. No excuses. Only results.

With a brand built almost entirely on the concept of accountability, Mansbridge is simply holding Babcock to his own standard. And if that is what it takes for Toronto’s old dog to learn some new tricks, then so be it.

Go off, Peter Mansbridge.

Next. Mitch Marner is Not Different. dark

Thanks for reading!