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Roundtable: We’re not mad, just disappointed — again

There’s really nothing we’d like more than never doing another article like this.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Seven Photo by Mark Blinchj/NHLI via Getty Images

Here we are again doing the post mortem.

Open question: What do you think/feel/want to say today?

Fulemin: Win a round, win a round, win a round. But if you’re losing a round, going down swinging against the dynasty Bolts is a lot better than collapsing against the Habs. As annoying as it is to lose again, I still feel better as a consequence.

Arvind: Losing just always sucks, and unlike most things, it doesn’t get easier with experience. The Leafs acquitted themselves well, but moral victories have long passed being of any use to us. I’m reasonably confident the Leafs are unlikely to be blown out by any team in a playoff series. But I’m still not really that confident that the Leafs will blow the doors of any team that they should actually beat, as we’ve never seen them do it. And with that, it’s pretty hard to view the Leafs as real contenders until they do.

Hardev: It’s so strange because usually I’d have something to latch onto and complain about all summer. This year was none of that, just the outcome. It feels kind of empty, heartless, but there’s nothing else to do but get up the next day/season and try again.

I think the Lightning weren’t prepared at the start of the series, but figured out their power play, their neutral zone defense, and their defensive obstructions by the end. They thrive on 2-1 wins and that’s exactly what happened. Matthews was smothered and never got the puck or could do anything with it. They basically can shut the game down to just two periods, that’s when you have to do your scoring. The Leafs did, but they also didn’t.

At the end of the day, it was those first period chances that didn’t happen. Bounces. Outcomes.

Brigstew: I pretty much explained my immediate feelings in Sunday’s FTB, and nothing has changed since then. I hope the Leafs do not make dramatic changes to the team or organization. I’m now looking forward to the draft, and to see what Dubas (if he’s still around) can pull off to improve the team and run them back next year.

Katya: I think the Leafs won the 5on5 game, lost the special teams battle, and the goalies were not a factor. Which makes this much, much more like that long ago second Boston series where they were genuinely a coinflip to decide who was the better team. I don’t think this was as close, I think the Leafs are better than Tampa for sure. I also agree with Hardev above, and after watching Tampa win the last two years, he’s also right when he says Jon Cooper is good at adjusting. I don’t think Sheldon Keefe is.

Fire someone important (so not the thirteenth name down the org chart)?

Fulemin: If you think you can upgrade on Sheldon Keefe (and everyone wants Barry Trotz), then go for it. I wouldn’t fire Keefe just to fire him. Dubas stays; I think this was the only kind of Round 1 loss that could have saved his job.

Hardev: You know very well the 13th guy on the organizational depth chart is Greg Moore. He should still be fired. There’s a lot of assistant coaches behind the bench right now, if you can trim that down and get Danielle Goyette there, that would be positive. Trotz coached Ovechkin and Washington, it might be worth a shot. At the end of the day, I can’t fault Dubas for the guys he put on the ice. It was a deep, well-constructed team. I liked how it was put together, I think it works for this group. They just need to keep tinkering.

Brigstew: If I have one gripe, it’s Keefe. But it’s a small nitpicky gripe. I don’t fire anyone.

Katya: I got mad during Game 7 and spouted off this hot take: The Leafs have no flexibility, not in goalie groins, not behind the bench, not in who plays on the top line. Keefe and Dubas are process guys, system guys. They are slow to react, which is likely good most of the time. The NHL gets a little too knee-jerk, and people get fired too quickly. But Tampa fixed their power play from Game One to Game Seven, and even the increased five-on-five time didn’t help the Leafs in the last two games. Having said all that, I’m with Fulemin in concept, but I don’t like Trotz for the Leafs. If you can find someone who doesn’t need two years to figure out the Leafs need rush chances along with their cycle game, maybe do that.

Trade someone important (so not Justin Holl)?

Fulemin: Shop Jake Muzzin and see if someone will pay you for his decent playoff round. I like the guy and at his best he’s the kind of guy you want, but the Leafs have a log jam on defence now and they need to open money somewhere.

Arvind: I think you listen on Nylander, and see if you can get a player who fits a little better with John Tavares (read: better defensively). Definitely don’t trade him for peanuts or anything like that, and don’t commit to having to get rid of him. But there are probably options out there that could make some sense.

Hardev: I think people are wrong about Tavares. I think people are wrong about Muzzin. I’m pretty sure the fate of Marner. I don’t know the fate of Nylander, but I don’t think it’s smart trade him to accommodate Tavares, you get different supporting players for that. There’s no one I’m instinctually mad at and want to replace. Marner pulled me back in more than I thought he could have. My arguments from the T25 still stand, especially now that Nylander’s position in the lineup is up in the air (third line? second line? first line?). The Nylander thing feels eerily like a Kadri situation to me where the coach couldn’t find a role for him. I hope Dubas doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

Brigstew: They’re going to have to trade someone to make the cap work, while filling out the holes in the projected lineup. Campbell is a UFA, they have some RFAs. Holl, Kerfoot, Muzzin are the obvious choices for guys who make more than league minimum who could be traded without affecting the core. Outside of that, you’re looking at Nylander as the only realistic option to trade.

Katya: Most of the players who are genuinely important can’t be traded. I also don’t believe they have to trade anyone, that’s not how cap decisions really get made, but I would trade Muzzin if he agrees. His contract has a full no-trade, so this is almost as moot as the Tavares conversations that annoy me already and it’s only been a day. Muzzin had a great playoffs which makes him valuable in trade right now.

Species: “Mrázek for sale! Leg missing, otherwise fine. 7th round pick, or best offer.”

People keep using “run it back” as shorthand for don’t blow up the team, but how different will this team be next year?

Fulemin: I would expect Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares, Rielly, and Campbell still to be here. (If any of them moves, it’s Nylander.) Bunting will obviously be back and I think Engvall will too, but a lot of the supporting forwards will shuffle around. I think the starting six on defence will include Sandin and Liljegren, and I think Jack will get a new platoon partner.

Arvind: Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Rielly, and Campbell are obviously sticking around. Brodie almost certainly is too. Nylander probably is. I think as in the last few years, most of the additions will be on the margins.

Hardev: Between Kerfoot, Mikheyev, Kämpf, Engvall, Kaše, and Blackwell, I think Kerfoot and Mikheyev are gone, simply because they need to find someone who can take on the competition Tavares got in the playoffs. I’d be happy to bring Kämpf, Engvall, Kaše, and Blackwell back in similar roles. Time to go shopping again.

Brigstew: Moderately. Some changes around the margins, role player spots and that’s it.

Katya: Yeah, I think Fulemin has it. The goalie thing is going to be interesting, but the churn will all be in peripheral roles. A suspicious person might wonder if Kyle Dubas made the deals he made to make this a hard summer to fire him. He’s tied his own hands so tightly, no new GM could ever cut the rope.

Knee-jerk opinion: Ilya Mikheyev (UFA), Ilya Lyubushkin (UFA) and Pierre Engvall (RFA with Arb rights) — who gets re-signed?

Fulemin: Mikheyev is gone, Lyubushkin is probably gone, I think Engvall is slightly more likely to stay but I won’t guarantee it.

Arvind: Engvall will stick, the rest are gone. While we’re here, Kerfoot is likely gone too.

Hardev: Mikheyev gone (I’m not paying for a hot shooting year from an otherwise poor shooter), Lyubushkin is gone (I don’t have strong feelings here), Engvall stays (usually bet on the RFA staying). I want Kaše and Blackwell back, while we’re talking about free agents. Giordano, obviously as well. I really liked this team, dang.

Brigstew: With all of them, I would say it really depends on two things. First, what each player would want in free agency. If they ask for too much, the Leafs will have to walk away. Second, what other moves the Leafs will make that could affect their ability and desire to retain them or not. My guess right now would be the same as Fulemin and Arvind.

Katya: Okay, I do think Holl is gone, and so I believe one of Giordano or Lyubushkin will be back and it might boil down to term ask on contracts. I don’t believe that this team will assume Sandin (22) and Liljegren (23) will have fulltime roles, but they will want to be able to make that happen if their play demands it. Mikheyev is gone, and Engvall will be back, and I’ve almost come around on his transition game value. Almost. I’d still put a shooter on line three, though. It’s okay to have someone other than Matthews with shooting skill.

Closing remarks?

Fulemin: Be as mad as you have to be. I get it. We wanted more playoff success by now and we haven’t gotten it, and it sucks. In spite of myself, though, I got something out of this playoff run, and I’m proud of this team in a way I haven’t been since 2016-17. That’s not as good as winning. But it’s something.

Hardev: I’m feeling pretty empty right now. It’s now going to be the season of hot takes, inflammatory comments, and trolling for attention. But aside from breakfast television hosts, I just don’t want to hear it this summer. Instead, I’ll be here with the masthead, putting words down that actually have thoughts behind them like we always do. I hope you will join us.

Brigstew: This is hockey — sports as a whole, but especially hockey with how random it can be. It sucks, we’ve been through it before and through far worse before. The sun will rise the next morning, we’ll continue watching and fretting about the Leafs through the off-season and through next season and every season beyond.

Katya: There were some moments in this playoff series that were just stunning performances. The games were so fast at five-on-five, so intense. It would be really heartbreaking to see that ruined, and I don’t think the Leafs are going to do that (because they aren’t hiring Trotz). I don’t hate Sheldon Keefe’s systems. I liked Mike Babcock’s too. They both have different flaws in how they responded to adversity. I think they both built a grind it out ethos into the team, and the players turned that into “there’s always next game”. Now they know why that’s a trap. But I truly think the Leafs need someone who can do some of what Keefe does, some of what Babcock did, and some of what Jon Cooper does. Otherwise, the play here really is to wait until the schedule and the bounces go their way. And maybe there is no one out there who is made up of all three of those guys. No one we’d want, at any rate.

Species: Anyone know how to travel forward in time so I can skip watching that whole long and plodding regular season?