The Toronto Maple Leafs are and will always be what we thought they were. That's as long as management continues to accept complacency.
For whatever reason, the Maple Leafs will not let go of what is not working. They will not let go of a sub-par on-ice product and focus on the future which could bring them success. A rebuild is a taboo word in Toronto. Sure, there are certain pieces of the puzzle that are working but the team is consistently not good enough.
Making the playoffs in the shortened season of 2013 is what hurt the team the most. If the season was a full 82 games, the Maple Leafs would have found a way to get themselves out of a playoff spot. The team doesn't have all the pieces and all the pieces already playing the league will cost you more than you're willing to move. Therein lies the problem. A rebuild makes sense but it has to be done properly.
The best teams in the league were once scraping the bottom of the barrel to get people to watch their games. The Chicago Blackhawks enlisted their players to give out free tickets before all their pieces were in place. The Pittsburgh Penguins rebuilt themselves and are home to some of the most gifted players in the league. The Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs from 2003-2009 and came back with a team that won two cups in the five years since the absence. The New York Islanders are starting to see the fruits of their labour and there is no better team than the Detroit Red Wings at scouting, drafting, and crafting players for their organization.
Where is the disconnect for the Maple Leafs? An unwillingness to say there has been a failure. An unwillingness to admit whatever they have now can be fixed with a temporary bandaid. A trade at the deadline can push them over the edge into the playoffs, a trade could change everything. Highly unlikely, wishful and dangerous thinking.
Without conceding problems with the team are bigger than what a trade can do for you, living in denial is going to create a larger problem down the road. With pieces like Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and David Clarkson locked up, there's not much room left for other players of a similar skill set to come in and make your team better. There has to be an understanding in a cap-conscious league that everyone has to share and take pay cuts to allow the team to succeed down the road. Management also has to abide by those unwritten rules as well.
The Maple Leafs only first-overall draft pick in franchise history was Wendel Clark in 1985. Since then they average a sixth-overall selection among all top-10 draft selections in the first round. Over the last 30 years, the Maple Leafs have drafted only three players who played more than 800 games in the league.
To be able to get to the promised land, the Maple Leafs have to realize nothing but time, solid drafting and copious amounts of scouting is going to bring a Cup to Toronto. No deadline trade is going to fix the drought, sliding into the playoffs isn't going to work for this team. In the last 29 years, the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs 15 times. Of the 14 times they missed the playoffs they sat fifth and sixth 10 times in their division, leaving themselves short of the playoffs and short of a decent draft pick.
If there was an organization that needed to take their hands off the wheel and start over, it's the Maple Leafs.