The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Virtue of Patience

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs attends the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 22: Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs attends the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena on June 22, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

For 55 years the Toronto Maple Leafs have been without a Stanley Cup. It has been 18 years since they have won a single playoff series. They hold one of the longest active championship droughts in pro sports.

However, none of those numbers are relevant to the four members of this current Toronto Maple Leafs team (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Reilly) that remain since 2016, the year after Brendan Shanahan put his (in)famous “Shanaplan” in motion.

The Shanaplan was approved in 2015. That is when Brendan Shanahan got carte blanche from the board at MLSE to begin a scorched earth rebuild. He brought in Mike Babcock as coach and Lou Lamoriello as GM of the Maple Leafs for a culture refresh.

Then, after selling off Kessel and Phaneuf, the Leafs finished last and landed themselves the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft lottery,  superstar Auston Matthews. The plan was five years. Five years to get this team from last place to a playoff contention team who would have Stanley Cup aspirations consistently.

Toronto Maple Leafs and the Five Year Rebuild

Then a miracle happened. While Leafs Nation was bracing itself for a tumultuous five years, Auston Matthews scored four goals in his opening game, the first player to ever accomplish such a feat. Then a second miracle: the Leafs squeaked into the playoffs in a wild card spot, and after a hard-fought series the team with an average age below 27, lost to the Washington capitals.

Leafs nation was ecstatic. The kids were here, and they came to play. “Plan the Parade” headlines were on every major Toronto newspaper/site and the fans thought they saw their fifty-year Stanley Cup drought coming to an end. But six years later, we still don’t have a cup. So, clearly the Shanaplan has failed. Clearly the Leafs can’t win with this group, and clearly, we need some more experienced people in charge.



The Shanaplan never promised a cup. It promised a good team who would finish top of its division, make the playoffs, and contend with other top teams for a cup. It is due to the sheer success of this young Maple Leafs team that Leafs Nation has deluded itself into thinking Brendan Shanahan was promising them a cup within five years.

The very first year of the  rebuild, the Leafs had already gone from last place to a playoff spot. Since then, they have finished in 3rd in the Atlantic or better and every year besides 2020 they have finished in the top ten teams in the league, in the toughest division in the league.

While it may seem like the Leafs are a constant disappointment with first round exits, we have had six years of playoff experience and failure tucked neatly into our allotted rebuild time and because of this our guys are more prepared for the tough road to the Stanley Cup than any other young core in the league.

Now contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually increase your odds of winning the cup by winning more rounds every year and then getting closer and closer until you win. Just ask the 32nd place Montreal Canadiens how much getting to the Stanley Cup finals in 2021 mattered this season in 2022. You only get to hang a banner if you win. Bad teams go on runs all the time, but it is the most consistent teams that emerge as Stanley Cup champions.

You give yourself the best odds of winning the cup by consistently making the playoffs. You do that by being a top team in the regular season. Leaf fans keep saying “The regular season doesn’t matter,” however we only get the luxury of saying that because Leafs management has created an elite team that is a lock for the playoffs every year. So much so that we’ve duped ourselves into believing the five-year plan ended in 2016. A glorious one year rebuild— but unfortunately that’s not how this works.

The NHL is a tough league, one that builds character and fortitude through hard-fought battles year after year. There is a reason it took Alexander Ovechkin 13 years before he won his first cup. Only anomalies get to come into the league as a rookie and succeed. Which is why this group of sub-25-year-olds is so amazing.

They have made the playoffs six years straight since Matthews has been here. You might argue that in 2020 they didn’t make the playoffs, but that was during a worldwide pandemic that shut the world down for almost two years.

The Leafs lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a play in round several months after the season had shut down but were sitting 3rd in the Atlantic at that point, which is normally a playoff spot. This makes them one of only five teams in the salary cap era to have made the post season in more than 5 consecutive seasons.

dark. Next. A Legend in Blue and White

The Shanaplan seems to me a success that is just hitting its stride. The team has never looked better and that reflects in standings and will show in the record books. So instead of wishing for a philosophy to return that failed for 50 years maybe we can just be a little patient as we see a new philosophy take shape and exceed expectations.