Toronto Maple Leafs Face a Stupid Amount of Pressure in New Season

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to exercise some demons beginning tonight.

Due to some pretty crazy circumstances – a pandemic, a frozen salary cap, some inopportune injuries, a 54 year losing streak, 17 years without a playoff win, and maybe even some standard  choking – the Toronto Maple Leafs and their young core find themselves at a crossroads way earlier than anyone probably thought possible.

These should – by pretty much any standard – still be in the development years.  And yet, because of five first-round losses seen through the lens of Absolutely No Context At All the Leafs are in a win or else…..situation.

Even though their team is built around a 23, a 24 and a 25 year old, they must now win or face being broken up.  And that sucks, because there is no guarantee they will win, even if they play well (as any Leafs fan can tell you).

But that’s the way it is.

Toronto Maple Leafs Face Enormous Pressure This Season

The Toronto Maple Leafs tried in earnest to do things differently, and perhaps their way is better.  But unless they win this year (at a minimum, one playoff round) then we will never know.

And that’s a shame because old school hockey attitudes and management styles are tired and they’re changing regardless.  The Leafs – like any successful progressives – don’t go quite far enough for some, and they’re way too radical for others, leaving them in a weird no-mans land.  You don’t imagine the Kyle Dubas era will end with many tears.

But it might not end. And there shouldn’t even be the consideration of it ending. Dubas has done a good enough job that his job should be safe even if the Leafs completely tank this season. That isn’t how sports work, but that’s how it should be.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a great team. Their coach has one of the highest winning percentages in NHL history.  They have more star players than almost every other team, and they happen to also be one of the deepest teams. They’ve got a great farm system that is just about ready to bear fruit, and they’ve got (contrary to popular opinion) a great salary cap situation that features the lowest amount of bad contracts in the league. 

If these things culminate in a victory, and if these management group gets a stay of execution, then the Toronto Maple Leafs will likely enter a golden era of excellence that most of their fans can’t even fathom, let alone dare to hope for.

But it all depends on how this season goes.  There should be a buzz around a team with Marner, Matthews, Nylander and Rielly.  Jack Campbell alone should make people cheer for this team. Yet…no buzz.

They’re in a weird spot of their development curve.  Nathan MacKinnon didn’t break out until his fifth year.  By his fifth year, Matthews was expected to win the Cup.  MacKinnon didn’t win a playoff series until his sixth year.  Today MacKinnon’s team is the consensus best team in hockey and a near unanimous Stanley Cup pick among experts.

He’s about to start his ninth year, and it’s currently impossible for me to imagine that after eight seasons of getting no farther than the second round, that Toronto Maple Leafs fans would embrace their team and their star quite the same was as the Avalanche’s fans accept theirs today.

But if MacKinnon’s team was judged like the Leafs, he wouldn’t be playing on the NHL’s Cup Favorite today.  A little context might go a long way.  The Leafs are good, but they’ve got to prove it. I accept that.  They shouldn’t have to be facing the amount of pressure they are currently facing though.  It’s ridiculous and doesn’t help anyone.