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It’s Time to Hit the Reset Button on This Season

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You don’t have to blow it all up to start preparing for next year

NHL: FEB 20 Penguins at Maple Leafs Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Saturday night, while the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the process of losing to the Carolina Hurricanes while their own zamboni driver was the emergency backup, I was at a concert with my wife. In between each band I would check the score on my phone. The progress went as follows:

  1. After the first band, it was tied 1-1.
  2. After the second band, it was 4-3 Carolina and I first learned of the EBUG situation. Before the headliner came on, I quip to my wife: “the Leafiest thing would be to lose this game.” Except it wasn’t a real quip — I’m a Leafs fan after all, I knew for a fact it was likely already going to happen.
  3. After the final band, I learned that It Had Happened because of course it did.

Weirdly, I wasn’t really mad. When I saw it, I said to my wife with a laugh that the Leafs actually did it. Then we talked about the show. When I got home I saw the reaction of my fellow masthead here, and they were Mad with a capital M. I saw Twitter was MAD for a few minutes before just shutting it down and going to bed.

I’m still not really mad, not nearly as mad as other people.

Truth to tell, I already had my breaking point. Their third period collapse against the Panthers at home when they were dominant for 40 minutes and the Panthers were playing defense as forwards and were missing Barkov started it. Their complete game collapse against the Penguins on Tuesday finished it. I have never been more mad at Leafs losses than those two, not in recent memory anyways.

But they’ve also had an amazing run of wins and looking great after Keefe was hired, and they followed that up with this current stretch of absolutely terrible play. As Katya said — sometimes it’s a terrible stretch in a period, sometimes it’s over a full game, and more recently it’s been more than one game in a row.

This loss to a zamboni driver, while it is pretty embarrassing, is just the capstone to a season that’s been full of embarrassment. God... I HOPE it’s the capstone. I don’t want to think of how they could dig deeper depths of badness.

That is my long introduction leading into the main point of this — I think it’s time for the pull the chute.

It’s Time to Reset (Sort of...)

Literally as I was writing this piece, I saw Kevin tweet the following:

You know how you’ll hear a GM or a media person say that when a team does well, the GM will reward them with a trade to make their team better NOW so they can make the playoffs and maybe do some damage? They said that about the Leafs when they traded for Brian Boyle. They’ve said it about Vancouver this year too. It sends a message to the team to reward their efforts.

I think the Leafs, specifically Dubas, needs to do the opposite this year. These Leafs do not deserve to have Daddy bail them out of their troubles and make moves designed purely to help them make the playoffs this year.

This year, it’s just not Toronto’s year. It’s frustrating, and it’s a bad thing since it’s a WASTE. They COULD have been a true Cup Contender(TM) and maybe even won the whole thing. But for whatever reason, and I’m gonna be That Guy and say that mental maturity has a lot to do with it, they did not have it this year.

So, Dubas, make that Barrie trade. Find whoever will pay the most assets or make an offer to help the team for next year the most. Start refreshing the Marlies cupboards because they are baaaaaare. Start preparing for the next wave of prospects coming in Robertson, Abramov, Der-Arguchintsev, and others.

You save your deal involving Kapanen, Johnsson, Kerfoot, Dermott, or whoever else until the off-season when those deals are easier to make and it’s more likely to get a better return. You trade Barrie, actually that’s really the main thing, or anyone else on an expiring deal or who you don’t want to keep around. You build up more assets to use in the off-season to get better deals for NEXT season.

Now, Dubas has reportedly been looking only at deals to help the team now AND in the future this whole time already. He’s also reportedly been having troubles making that happen in a way that will also help the team THIS year.

That is, he’s having trouble finding a team who will trade for Barrie while also giving us back a top 4 defenseman with term that we can use in exchange. He has also reportedly been trying to come at it another way, by trading for picks and prospects that he would then flip to a team who wants those instead of someone like Barrie.

So, what I am saying is that Dubas should stop worrying about making them better right NOW with such a trade, and start preparing for the off-season. Make that trade for the picks and prospects, and if a team isn’t willing to trade you their defenseman now, they will likely be better able to in the off-season. Just like the Leafs will be better able to maneuver trades under the cap in the off-season.

By doing that, you may start having more teams willing to talk trade with you too. It’s just flat out more difficult for teams to make significant trades like that in the middle of a season.

It’s Time to See What We Have Elsewhere

The second part of all this is their roster. There are players who need to get more responsibility and ice time so we can see what we have in them before next season, so they aren’t so unknown. That means giving more minutes against tougher competition, on special teams too, to guys like Dermott, Liljegren, Kapanen, Engvall, Malgin, etc.

It’s time to stop coddling the wants and desires of the young stars who want to play 30 minutes a night with each other including the entirety of a powerplay. Sorry guys, you need to work on making the time you’re on the ice count in terms of quality first, and then we can talk about giving you more.

That also means you need to stop playing meaningless depth. Stop sitting Liljegren on the bench in favour of Marincin — send him down to the Marlies to keep developing at the very least, but I’d also rather you actually fucking play him in the NHL now so he can start adjusting and figuring it out. It also means stop playing Gauthier or Timashov so much.

Bad shit has happened to better teams. Pittsburgh had some leeean years between their first and second championships in the Crosby era. They had meltdowns, they looked mentally fragile against tougher AND inferior teams just like the Leafs have. Washington did it between their initial run of regular dominance and their Cup win. San Jose missed the playoffs once in the middle of their long window of contention. Tampa missed the playoffs a few years ago when the Leafs first made it. Boston’s done it too. You name a good team, including Stanley Cup winners, and you will see a team that’s risen AND fallen over the years.

Start laying the foundations for next season so they can fucking figure It out and stop wasting the prime years of their stars.