Toronto Maple Leafs Management Failures Will Cause Another Lost Year

SUNRISE, FL - MAY 7: Head coach Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during second period action against the Florida Panthers in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 7, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - MAY 7: Head coach Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during second period action against the Florida Panthers in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 7, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are 5-4-2 through their first 11 games and I’ve already seen enough!

I have zero  doubt that if Toronto Maple Leafs management continues to go about business such as they did through this off season and have through the first 11 games, that this will be just another same old, same old season for Canada’s team.

A team which everybody and their Mothers roots for (even when they outwardly don’t), a team which just can’t ever seem to get out of its’ own way.

Let me stop you right there with your “it’s only been 11 games” and “they had the exact same record through 11 last year” sympathies.

That’s a loser’s mentality, part of what has long forever been the problem in the land of blue and white.  You don’t see juggernauts like defending champs, VGK, or the MacKinnon-led warriors in Colorado taking much time to let the rest of the League know they mean business again this year.

Even with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retiring, the Bruins in Boston are off to another incredible start and look like a finely-tuned machine.  Winners win. The rest make excuses.  Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs Management Failures Will Cause Another Lost Year

Fans have heard all of them from all of the Core Four over the years.

You could basically replay interviews with 34, 16, 91 and 44 from each of the elimination games of the past years and think you were watching a looped video.

Sad faces, tears even, and templated rationales from multi-million dollar athletes who just haven’t been able to have success when it counts.

A roster full of superstars that seemed destined for a better result than a second round exit to the inferiorly-talented Florida Panthers, especially after having finally broken through and beaten their long-time nemeses from Tampa Bay.

The Toronto Maple Leafs core is getting it done.

Their allstar players are playing like allstars.  Morgan Rielly is playing like he did in the playoff, John Tavares and William Nylander are crushing their minutes every night, and Marner and Matthews are among the league leaders, just as expected.

The Leafs have the core to win – they have just completely failed to surround that core with competent auxiliary players.

What I have seen since the off-season and into the first ten games has me blaming management — specifically Brad Treliving and Sheldon Keefe — more than the players.

Let’s start with Treliving.

I was thrilled with his signings of Bertuzzi, Domi and Reaves (in that order) and want to believe that all three will have more positive effect on this team than negative in the long run.

John Klingberg, however, was always going to be an awful signing and he’s proven as much so far.

Paying the defensively-inept Klingberg $4.1m was always stupid.

He’s not enough of an upgrade on Morgan Rielly’s contribution to the man advantage and is most definitely a complete waste of time in his own end.  The Borje Salming banner that hangs in Scotiabank arena is better at defending than Klingberg.

The Toronto Maple Leafs power-play was second best in the League last year with Rielly manning the point.  If they weren’t happy with him, with being second best, then they had a much cheaper solution that they could try in Connor Timmins, who was already on the books.

I mean, Treliving & Co. ran everything back but just can’t settle on running the 2nd best power play in the League back?  Makes absolutely no sense at all.  Now, you’ve overpaid Klingberg (dousing the $4.1m in gasoline and lighting it on fire would’ve been more productive) and supplanted the longest-serving Toronto Maple Leafs player who happens to be part of the leadership group, which can’t be very progressive for a team that is constantly gas lit for having a culture issue, not to mention made an already-incompetent blueline even worse.

Treliving’s next mistake was his inability to gauge his goaltending situation.  This was always supposed to be Joseph Woll’s year.

I Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so and I’m absolutely beside myself at the notion that fans like myself (and there are so many others on the record, too) can see these things from a mile away but the General Manager and those around him cannot.

Samsonov is who he is, who he will always be and to me, that’s never been anything more than a backup. Yes, he had a good season last year but it was a contract season and we’ve already seen this year how players can elevate their play and do things they didn’t previously do in non-contract seasons (see William Nylander back-checking, finishing checks, going into the corners and slamming his stick against the glass in frustration at himself).

Samsonov stunk in the Playoffs last year.  Now Treliving has $3.55m tied up into a guy that was supposed to be the guy, isn’t the guy anymore and it was all avoidable had the GM simply taken a step back, seen what they had in Woll and had the guts to sign a veteran backup — like they ultimately did in Martin Jones — and run the two of them in the crease.

Now, between Klingberg and Samsonov, he’s got $7.65m tied up in ridiculous spending caused by terrible talent assessment and management.

There’s so much more to criticize: the handling of Fraser Minten, not acquiring a “stud” defender, not getting William Nylander either signed or moved.  But Treliving isn’t alone in his mismanagement of the roster.

What About the Toronto Maple Leafs Coach?

It’s hard to argue that Sheldon Keefe is a bad coach given his record in the League, but I’m really starting to wonder.

Treliving signed players like Bertuzzi and Domi to provide secondary scoring and support for the usual suspects, but Keefe just keeps sending the usual suspects onto the ice.  Have Bertuzzi and Domi disappointed through ten games? Yes. But isn’t it the job of the coach and his staff to manage his players and put them in positions to succeed?

Yes.  Hockey is a team game.  Every player on the team needs a role, an identity.  The Leafs aren’t a team.  They are 34, 16, 88, 91 and then the other guys, the roster fillers.

I mean, Auston Matthews is even killing penalties this year! I’m all for riding your horses, but what happens when those horses are sick or lame or just don’t have it?

Both Bertuzzi and Domi joined the Leafs after years of being on the short lists of their previous teams’ go-to players.

Now they’re in Toronto and all of a sudden, they aren’t on the short list.  Hard to imagine being excited about 40 seconds of power play time each night or playing on a line centered by the offensively-crippled David Kampf (whom Keefe never hesitates to run out the door, even in OT, despite the fact that he couldn’t score in the ocean from the deck of a cruise ship).

This early in the season, if Keefe had any ability of introspection, he’d realize he’s ridden the exact same horses for years and the results have always been nil.  Why not build out your supporting players and make everyone — not just the superstars — feel like they’re a part of something, like they’re needed, get them engaged?

Try to build a better culture with the things he can control.  Have you looked at the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster? How does that team of mostly nobodies have so much success? Even this year’s new look Bruins, with far less offensive talent, are as good as always and it’s because they and VGK are well coached, held accountable and are accountable to each other.

All of these attributes boil down to team culture.  We’ve long blamed the players for the apparent lack of winning culture in Toronto, but the coach should have to shoulder much of that, as well, because he doesn’t do much in his deployment of players to foster a positive, winning team culture.

This Blue-Line Was Bad Before the Season Started. dark. Next

Unless Treliving and Keefe get their collective you-know-what together and immediately correct some of these glaring mistakes, I can’t foresee anything being different for this group and their fans again this year come Playoff time — if the Toronto Maple Leafs even makes the Playoffs.