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There’s always next year

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It’s a cliché, and it’s gotten tired.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

They did what we expected them to do. After an unbelievable comeback to win Game 4 in overtime - very Boston-esque if I do say so myself - the Leafs responded with a frustrating shutout loss eliminating them from Stanley Cup Playoff contention.

I could focus on several moments of that game. Sheldon Keefe’s usage of the All-Star line which looked great at 5v5 despite not being able to solve Jonas Korpisalo. Tyson Barrie virtually scoring the game-winning goal or the abomination that was every single aspect of Liam Foudy’s fist career playoff goal.

But, every time I think of that nearly three-hour experience, I come back to one moment.

This moment:

Every Leafs follower has thought of at least one move by now. And that doesn’t include letting certain UFAs walk. However, the question of whether the Leafs should blow things up has been in full force since Nick Foligno scored that empty-net goal, Jason Spezza hung his head on the bench, and Brendan Shanahan emitted an aura awfully reminiscent of 2015’s Red Sunday.

Now, I don’t think the Leafs have any intention of blowing things up after losing a five-game series to a team who finished with the same amount of points as them in the regular season. That said, the organization surely felt as if they were the favourite heading into the series, despite not having the experience of winning a series with this current core.

But how many times has this happened? How many times have the Leafs lost a game they should’ve won? How many times have the Leafs played down to their opponent instead of overwhelming with what makes them special?

This isn’t to say the Columbus Blue Jackets are a bad team. They were able to stay in the hunt all season despite all their injuries, and the defensive system they run is a valuable one. We can even go back to last season where the Leafs looked like the better team against the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately, they lost then and they’ve lost now.

The Leafs shouldn’t blow anything up.

We’re in Year 4 of the Auston Matthews era that’s also had two full years of John Tavares. But neither year has had any inkling of defence, save for Morgan Rielly, and relatively recently, Jake Muzzin. That’s been their problem from the get-go and Kyle Dubas optimistically thought Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci could play well enough to smooth out the wrinkled areas of an otherwise flat Leafs sheet of success.

Game 5 wasn’t on the shoulders of the team’s blue line. You can’t blame the Leafs lack of scoring on the blue line, but we can blame blame their lack of awareness and attention to detail for the final result.

Change will come with the UFAs leaving. Additionally, we can assume Dubas may use one of Andreas Johnsson - if teams are interested despite his unimpressive return to the lineup - Kasperi Kapanen, or both in some kind of package for a defenceman.

I don’t feel like anyone is going to be fired. Keefe just got here, Dubas is two seasons in and Paul McFarland has already chosen his next destination as head coach of the Kingston Frontenacs.

The Leafs don’t need to follow the Florida Panthers path considering the long track record Dale Tallon has behind him. But I can understand the rationale of thinking they need something to give.

I just don’t know what that is exactly.

The ‘trade William Nylander’ crowd is out and about and a new group enthralled with the idea of parting ways with Mitch Marner is growing stronger. The truth is it’s tough to follow-up a 94-point season with a summer-long hold-out filled with demands of Matthews money to then get said Matthews money, have a similar point production — without hitting 30 or even 20 goals — and put up one primary and three secondary assists in a “playoff series”. It’s almost as if:

Despite what the media will say, I don’t expect anything major to come out of the offseason. That may change based on what happens at Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery, but that’s a different conversation.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see a similar Leafs forward corps with a different blue line come to training camp in December. If defence is the problem, fixing the defence should be the solution. Right?

Unfortunately, the salary cap is a thing and it’s a thing that’s going to become even more difficult to manoeuvre. The cap is staying fat for the next few years and LTIR saviours in Nathan Horton and David Clarkson are taking their $10.55 million in cap relief off the books.

A little over $8 million is coming off the books via Ceci, Barrie, and Clifford with an extra $700,000 in the event of a Jason Spezza walk off. Making a significant change is going to require money being moved which goes back to the push for Nylander and Marner to be moved. At the same time, there’s also hope of finding serviceable value on the cheap but with how close the Leafs are to the ceiling, it’s going to take some creativity.

Help is on the way though on entry-level deals. Nick Robertson proved his shot isn’t the only thing that can work in the NHL and Rasmus Sandin will likely be used for more than just the Hail Mary Marlies call-up.

The Leafs ironically still have some essence of the benefit of the doubt considering the randomness of this tournament. However, with the NHL committing to a full 82-game season next year, there won’t be anywhere to hide.

This year’s disappointment isn’t the time to go for a full shakeup. It’s too knee-jerk and despite being a cliché, it takes the onus off of the ones you put your faith and money into. But there’s only so far that faith can drag so, and because of that, “there’s always next year.”