Monday night, it all came to an end, and we, the fans, frankly want to hear from the Leafs management about this. It’s normal for the players, who are put through that media-framed ritual of “locker cleanout” to take a few days to get over things, but Kyle Dubas, Brendan Shanahan and Sheldon Keefe aren’t players.
This is the second year in a row that the Leafs have been bounced and the brass went into hiding for more than 2 days. Last summer, after their horrible series against Columbus, the management group spoke to the public three days later. They had the bubble playoffs running in their building as an excuse. This year they had no excuse and word is they will face the music today at 4 p.m.
Shanahan, Dubas and Keefe are meeting with the media at 4 p.m. tomorrow for end of season press conference.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 2, 2021
The delay is due to the need to get together and decide on a message and pay careful attention to the optics of their word choice. They need to bust out the branded app to make an image of text on a blue background to post on social media, and they have to set up the interview session with the press. All the modern world’s ways to obscure communication while seeming to do so much more of it.
My memory of this process last year was that Kyle Dubas seemed combative and almost petulant in his portion of the interview, while Brendan Shanahan played the role of sober executive. I don’t know if that was a choice or just how they felt in reality, but it fell very flat to me. I get to be angry, Dubas doesn’t.
I went back and re-watched the video, once I found it — it’s not on the Maple Leafs Youtube channel, I had to find it on Sportsnet’s channel and also at MLHS in transcript form. It is as annoying as I remember. Here’s some comments you might remember:
Dubas: I think it is all a part of it. You can’t ignore either end of it. You can’t point to the very highs and the excellent games that we played at various different stretches and say, “That is who we are.” You can’t point to the lows and say, “That is who we are.”
In the end, the standings don’t really lie. We were, at the time of the pause, the third best team in our division and the eighth-seeded team in our Conference, which I would say is well below what our potential should be. That was from October 2nd through to March 11th — that was what we were.
I think you can point to the highs and the lows and you largely end up somewhere in the middle. The middle isn’t good enough. We’ve already started working here today. It is stuff we have to improve upon. As I view it, that starts with me and the job I do in continuing to work to improve the club and everything that we do.
That stood out to me because I agree with it fully, and now here we are with a slightly different situation. The Leafs had a good regular season, and there’s not a lot of point in arguing about the strength of the North Division, because that’s where the Leafs were, and they won it. But when the good and bad isn’t spread out in a season in chunks, but is instead two clearly defined sections in one playoff series, you have to start asking if the standings do lie and if the team is still one that can’t get it done.
Shanahan: We will all look for solutions, but this is not a team that is making excuses right now. The blame lies on us. It is not a time in our development where we are pointing the blame at anyone else. This is on us. The solution is also within us.
Not that any team is going play 82 regular-season games without a bad spell or a bad game or without a bad moment, but we have to really come back and find that game that we see us do when it seems our backs are against the wall — with that great attention to detail against elite teams; still offensive, but very good and disciplined defensively. We have to find a way to have that game more consistently. Part of growing up in the NHL is doing something consistently.
The players will just call it being a professional. Our guys want to get there. They know they have to do that more consistently in the regular season so that when you do get in the playoffs, first off, you don’t put yourself in a position that each and every year you are facing an elimination game. In the last years, there has been Game 7, Game 7, and Game 5. You want to show up on time and you want to put teams away. When you have them down, you have to not let them get up and not give them an opportunity. That is a maturity and that is a team growing up.
In light of that, we, the fans are sitting here this summer asking if you are actually planning to do that growing up. Padding out the team with thousands of days of NHL experience, with a man who won the Cup last year, with former captains, former top draft picks — it all seemed like Dubas was trying to buy maturity. And it didn’t work.
Last year, fandom, as it usually is, was out for Steve Simmons blood. So when the asked this:
You referenced numerous times that the team didn’t meet its potential. Is it possible that you and Brendan and the staff have misread the potential of this group?
And Dubas said:
It was great! Fanservice was achieved! And everyone laughed at Stove Simmons getting made a fool of.
Who’s laughing now? Because that is the question I want answered, the one they’re cooking up a story about right now before they meet the press and tell a tale about the series win that got away. Three times in a row.
We’re waiting, impatiently, Leafs, and we aren’t feeling very charitable.