The Toronto Maple Leafs season came to an end on April 23rd to the hands of the Boston Bruins…in a game 7 in Boston…again. The Leafs just can’t get enough of Boston’s Chowdah.
Yet another disappointing end to a Maple Leafs season that started out with expectations of a Stanley Cup.
Before I go on, I just wanted to mention that this article is going to be more focused on how the Leafs lost and what they should do to fix it for the 2019-2020 season.
What Caused The Downfall
Let’s talk about this 7 game war that was Leafs vs Bruins. Unlike the two previous times these 2 teams have met (2013 and 2018) the Leafs were actually the better team throughout. The Leafs should have won this series, but it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs and what should happen usually doesn’t. There are many factors into why the Leafs could never get over the hump but there are a couple that were more prominent than the others.
Special teams, probably the most deprecating factor in this series for Toronto. The Maple Leafs penalty kill was horrendous all series long and couldn’t seem to buy a kill against a lethal Boston power-play. The blame for the Leafs abysmal penalty kill falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff who we’ll talk about later. The Maple Leafs power-play couldn’t catch a break either. Going against a very well oiled Boston penalty kill, they were an awful 3 for 16 in the series.
The second issue in this series for the Maple Leafs was the ice time. In game 7, while trailing for practically the whole game, Auston Matthews was only on the ice for 18 minutes. That’s absurd. You can not try to roll four lines while trailing in game 7. It’s a stubborn move by a stubborn coach that refuses to accept the new analytical side of hockey. Giving 40 year old Patrick Marleau more minutes than John Tavares, Mitch Marner or Matthews with 5 minutes left while trailing by 1 goal in game 6 was an awful coaching decision. The decision to give Marleau a ton of ice time in game 6 probably cost them that game too. It’s hard to accept it, but Mike Babcock and his staff cost the team the series.
That being said I think a lot of the blame this series could fall onto the shoulders of one Maple Leafs player. Nazem Kadri.
His decision to cross check Boston’s Jake Debrusk was a selfish move. With Kadri out of the lineup, they were down a centreman. They were short on depth. Given how tight the series was, Kadri would have been pivotal in games 3 through 7. This is the second year in a row Kadri has been suspended in a playoff series against Boston. If Kadri wants to stay in Toronto, he needs to work on discipline.
What Should Happen Now?
The question is how do the Toronto Maple Leafs move forward. What steps do they take to ensure success next season?
If I were running the show, I would fire either Mike Babcock, Jim Hiller (assistant coach) or D.J Smith (assistant coach). At least one of the Maple Leafs coaches needs to go.
The player management in this series was awful and it’s been this way for the past 4 years since Babcock took over. I don’t think Babcock is going to get fired, but the assistants should and will. That being said if Babcock does go and gets replaced presumably by the Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
Some of the players on the team are going to have to leave. Jake Gardiner is going to leave in free agency. Dubas will try to trade Marleau, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev to clear space to re-sign Marner, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen.
After a loss like that in the first round, there will be some changes. But, I have confidence in Dubas and his management staff. They’ll make the necessary moves to improve this hockey team.
This team is very young and I know it may seem like the sky is falling in Leaf Land, but it really isn’t. If you are a Leafs fan, all you can do is look forward to next year, forget about this wasted season, and most of all never stop beleafing.
stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler