The Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Complement Their Core Not Destroy It

After another early postseason exit, the pining for major changes to the core of the Leafs roster will escalate, but giving up on talent is a risky proposition.
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Six
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Six / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a core group of players that most teams in the National Hockey League would love to have.

It bears remembering, especially coming off another early dismissal of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The enigmatic playoff performances, without a long postseason run in eight seasons, definitely test the patience of Leafs management and the fan base.

Despite the angst that comes with the disappointing results, the talent of the Leafs is something to continue to build around. Dismantling it comes with risk. Drastic player changes are not needed for this team to win a title.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Complement Their Core Not Destroy It

The process of winning a title is not a linear progression. Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby each won their first title early in their career. It took Steve Yzerman and Alex Ovechkin each over a decade to win a championship with the teams that drafted them.

In Yzerman's case, after the Detroit Red Wings lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 playoffs, there was talk that Detroit should trade its longtime captain. This came after a 62-win season.

Of course, the Red Wings didn't trade Yzerman and he went on to help bring three Stanley Cups to Detroit.

Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals suffered multiple, early-elimination playoff disappointments before finally breaking through for a title.

Connor McDavid, hockey's best player, has reached a Conference Final but is also without a championship.

It's something to keep in mind when considering the Maple Leafs predicament. Other options should be explored before trading away their talent.

Other Alternatives Should Be Explored First

The easy, emotional, knee-jerk reaction is to get rid of players, especially those perceived to be underperforming.

Mitch Marner is now at the forefront of speculation because of his perceived ineffectiveness in the playoffs and his salary.

The problem with moving him is his no-movement clause. John Tavares also has an NMC in his deal. The players must agree to be moved and both want to remain.

Even if the Leafs wanted to move on from Marner, they are unlikely to get close to equal value in return. The player has the leverage. Plus, the Leafs would be taking one of their best players off the roster during their Cup-contending years.

Not long ago, William Nylander was the player of choice to be moved from the core group. It seems ludicrous now, but his enigmatic play and, at times questionable effort, was once a big concern.

Marner should be afforded the same opportunity to rebound. He was also coming off a significant injury when the playoffs started.

Tavares is now more suited for a third-line role and his production is declining. No team would take on his contract without the Leafs giving up a significant asset (i.e. prospect or draft pick).

That means other alternatives must be considered to awaken this team when the calendar turns to spring.

The easiest, most convenient is a coaching change. All of the Leafs most important players have had Sheldon Keefe behind the bench during their peak years. Before that, Mike Babcock coached when they were playoff neophytes.

A new, experienced voice as a coach might be the tonic to reach new heights. The Leafs fired Keefe on Thursday, and as of this writing have not selected a new bench boss.

The Leafs also have the flexibility to improve their defense and goaltending around their stars up front. Add a top 4 defenseman, preferably one with a heavy shot from the point to help the power play, and a goalie to play alongside Joseph Woll, and the Leafs outlook improves.

Should either Fraser Minten or Easton Cowan prove they can be an NHL regular, the Leafs are in an even stronger position.


The Toronto Maple Leafs need to keep their core together. Other strategies and solutions must be contemplated before moving talent out the door.