The Leafs Fail Because They're Caught Between 2 Philosophies That Don't Mesh

The Leafs are mixing their Studs and Duds philosophy with a regular attempt at balance and it's not going to work.
May 21, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CANADA;  Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving speaks during a media conference to introduce new head coach Craig Berube (not shown)  at Ford Performance Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CANADA; Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving speaks during a media conference to introduce new head coach Craig Berube (not shown) at Ford Performance Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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The reason the Toronto Maple Leafs are having a bad off-season is because they are caught in between two competing philosophies that make it impossible to build a winner.

The Toronto Maple Leafs employed the Studs and Duds Salary Cap Philosophy to try and win. They invested in 5 Studs and then filled out the roster on the cheap.

The new Leafs management didn't want to keep doing this, so they immediately started to pay extra money for the players who are supposed to round out the roster on the cheap i.e the "Duds" - inking Bertuzzi, Klingberg, Kampf and Reaves to philosophy violating deals, while retaining all of their Studs.

I'm not saying one or the other of these strategies is right. I'm saying you can't keep all the Studs if you move on from signing only Duds. The fact is you either give half your cap to five players and spend cheap on the rest of the roster, or you spread it out completely. You cannot start paying mid-range players while retaining the stars, which is why Brad Treliving has had so much trouble since he was hired.

That is how you get in the mess the current Leafs management finds themselves in. The second they wanted to sign Domi and Bertuzzi and Klingberg should have been the second they decided to move out one of the Core Five.

The Leafs Fail Because They're Caught Between 2 Philosophies That Don't Mesh

The Leafs built their team around five players with big contracts. Famously, they bet on Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly and planned to go cheap with the rest of their roster in order to win.

When Kyle Dubas was in charge, the Leafs let mid-range players like Ilya Mikheyev, Andreas Johnson, Kasperi Kapanen, Jack Campbell and Zach Hyman leave the team while searching for bargains and value in the likes of Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall and Michael Bunting.

Dubas was able to find value in other spots of the lineup that allowed him to make another investment in two more star players making $5 million each in Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie.

This worked out rather nicely in 2023 when the Leafs were able to use basically all their future assets to acquire double-retained potential stars in Ryan O'Rielly and Jake McCabe and ice the best team in the NHL.

Unfortunately they lost, the team imploded and the Leafs changed GMs.

Now, I'm not saying the Leafs old GM was better than the new one. I am saying that the new one cannot hope to succeed by veering away from the Studs and Duds philosophy while retaining all of the Studs.

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You either have to go cheap or commit to a balanced roster. You can't do both.