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Toronto Maple Leafs: Is this the end of an era?


It’s been 72 agonizing hours since the dust settled on the epic clash between the Leafs and the Bruins in game seven. The heartbreak is still raw as reality hits – another year, another first-round exit. Remember the gut-wrenching overtime of game 7 when Pasternak shattered our dreams? This city hasn’t tasted victory since 1967, and we believed this team, this group, could rewrite history. But here we are, crushed once again and many are seeing this as the end of an era in Leafs nation. So, let’s take a look at what could be next for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The loyal Leafs fans in Maple Leaf Square stood like statues, heads bowed in silent agony. For seven of the last eight years, we’ve endured this torment, four times in the last twelve years (2013, 2018, 2019 and 2024) at the hands of the dreaded Bruins, led by their relentless forwards and the seemingly unbeatable Jeremy Swayman. Whether fans like it or not, whether we agree or disagree, it’s time for change.

It’s time for one of the core four to be moved, maybe even coach Keefe, GM Treliving, and President Shanahan to be let go. It’s time to confront the harsh reality. It’s time to dissect the season, to ponder the path forward, and to transform this group into a true Stanley Cup contender.

Therapy For Leafs Nation

For those of us watching from afar, the weight of disappointment is palpable. We curse, we shake our heads, and many of us wonder if it’s finally time to break free from this cruel addiction. Yes, most of us Leafs fans have been in ‘therapy’ for years. We try to quit our beloved Leafs, but every year we find ourselves drawn back in, only to have our hearts shattered once more. They say that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Well, maybe, just maybe, Leafs Nation, we are insane.

A stellar regular season followed by soul crushing defeat – rinse and repeat

The pattern is etched into our souls: a stellar regular season filled with hope and promise, a hard-fought first-round series that gets our adrenaline pumping, and then the inevitable, soul-crushing blow of defeat. It’s a tale of hope turned to ashes, repeated season after season. We cling to the belief that this time will be different, that this year will be our year, only to be left with emptiness and despair

From hockey gods to mere mortals

On the ice, the Leafs’ players stared at the heavens in disbelief. There were no words left to express the depth of their despair. No more excuses to shield them from the bitter truth. This was supposed to be the era of dominance, with Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares, and Rielly leading the charge. They were meant to be ‘hockey gods’ as Mitch Marner recently suggested, but now they stand as mere mortals, their dreams upended by the vicious reality that only a smothering nemesis like the Boston Bruins can deliver.

The Experiment Is Over

It’s time to confront the harsh reality. The experiment of assembling a team of pure talent, with grinders on the periphery, has failed. Now, the Leafs must turn inward and search for answers. The fresh sheet of ice is daunting, but the fire of determination still burns within.


Brad Treliving stepped into Kyle Dubas’s shadow a few weeks after last year’s gut-wrenching second-round defeat against Florida. If you remember, Dubas’s tenure was fraught with a thirst for power, even seemingly eyeing Shanahan’s seat. Meanwhile, Treliving embarked on his rookie season with the Leafs by making moves at the trade deadline, bringing in Edmunson, Lyubushkin, and Dewar. He wasted no time at the start of the season, acquiring Reaves, Bertuzzi, and Klingberg. Klingberg’s play was lacklustre, resembling an imposter on the ice, before being sidelined for the entire season due to a nagging injury from his time in Dallas. Reaves, brought in to provide toughness against teams like the Bruins and Florida, had moments of brilliance in the playoffs but ultimately failed to make a significant impact. He was eventually replaced by Gregor, who fared no better. Overall, Treliving’s debut season must be seen as a failure.

The Shanaplan

Brendan Shanahan, a Hall of Fame player, knows the taste of victory from his playing days. He was the embodiment of a team player, giving his all with every shift, the heartbeat of any team he played for. As President, he felt Mike Babcock’s rigid coaching style wasn’t resonating with the players anymore. This was evident again in Babcock’s brief stint in Columbus when he was found scrutinizing players’ cell phone photos. Shanahan had a different vision from his predecessor, Brian Burke. Burke aimed to win with the traits exemplified by Shanahan as a player, while Shanahan leaned towards a more progressive strategy.

Shanahan brought in Dubas and later Keefe, aiming to create a team in the mold of the free-flowing Edmonton Oilers of the ’80s, abandoning defense for skill at all positions. However, there was a crucial missing piece: a Mark Messier. Messier was the heart and soul, the leader, who rallied his teammates to victory. Even after Gretzky’s departure, Messier led his team to another Cup, then won again as a Ranger. Shanahan’s Leafs had all the talent: Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Rielly, and others.

Keeping Kadri

They even had their own version of Messier in Kadri until he was traded. Keeping Kadri might have altered their fate. Maybe he was the kind of leader this team needed? Regardless, in a few weeks or months, both Shanahan and Treliving might be paid to step aside, whether it’s for fishing, golf, or working for another NHL team. Shanahan gets an A for effort assembling an incredibly talented team, but for various reasons, they never made a serious Cup run, existing only in the minds of their fans.

Coach Keefe

Sheldon Keefe, a successful coach at every level, couldn’t replicate his success at the NHL level with the league’s most iconic team. He tried everything, from benching players to shuffling lines, even pairing together the league’s most dynamic goal-scoring duo since Hull and Oates: Marner and Matthews. They were a joy to watch during the regular season, reminiscent of Gretzky and Kurri, Hull and Mikita, Bossy and Trottier, Lafleur and Shutt, or Lemieux and Stevens. They outshined even Backstrom and Ovechkin in their prime. Pairing them and letting Nylander grow alongside Tavares seemed like smart moves. But, while the offense sparkled, Keefe lacked a real shutdown defensive pair and a Cup-winning goalie. Teams need players like Coffey, Potvin, Orr, Makar or Hedman to anchor a defense, and a never-say-die goalie like Billy Smith or Grant Fuhr between the pipes. Keefe is a solid coach and I believe one day he will win the big prize, just not in Toronto.

In Rielly’s Defense

Defense has been a haunting shadow over the Leafs throughout Keefe’s reign. It’s like watching a lone sentinel, Morgan Rielly, standing tall amidst a crumbling fortress. The rest of the defenders, weathered and weary, are like ancient walls unable to withstand the onslaught. Treliving tried to reinforce the barricades by adding Benoit, Edmunson, and Lyubushkin, providing a semblance of resilience for the playoffs. But Brodie and Giordano once stalwarts, are now relics of their prime. Lindgren dazzles with offensive prowess but falters in his defensive duties, while Timmins waits in the wings for a chance to prove himself. Yet, the draft picks seem to have missed the mark, and the funds to bolster Rielly’s side are always elusive. Perhaps they’ll sacrifice Marner, a jewel of their offense, for a warrior who can defend and attack. But as it stands, the defense cries out for a rebirth.

From Samsonov to Woll, to Jones to Samsonov to Woll to Samsonov!

In the realm of goaltending, it was a tale of redemption for Ilya Samsonov. At the dawn of the season, burdened by the weight of fatherhood, his play faltered, a once-great guardian reduced to mere vulnerability. The Leafs couldn’t even pawn him off on waivers.

The Marlies

Through the trials of the minor leagues and the labyrinth of his own mind, he rediscovered his strength, a phoenix rising from the ashes to reclaim his throne in the crease. Whether it was the echoes of war in Ukraine or the anxieties of fatherhood that plagued him, he found solace and resurgence. Yet, while Samsonov lingered in purgatory, Joseph Woll, the rising star, seized the moment. Woll, who was heralded as the saviour of Leafland, stood tall between the posts until injury struck, a cruel twist of fate. With Woll sidelined, Treliving turned to Martin Jones, who held the fort with unexpected valour. And just as the Leafs’ hopes seemed to flicker, Samsonov returned, rekindling the flames of faith among the faithful. Unfortunately for the first five games of the Boston series he looked ordinary, and with nothing to lose Keefe replaced him with Woll, who played like a rookie Patrick Roy- winning the Leafs two must-win games until the eve of the fateful seventh game.

Woll’s body betrayed him. The fans and team were left trembling with uncertainty. Samsonov had regained the net. Samsonov stood firm, a bulwark against defeat. But the harsh reality looms: Samsonov’s time in Toronto is likely at its end, destined to find a new home where his talents will be valued. As for Woll, he may yet be offered a lifeline, a chance to prove his mettle, while the Leafs’ new general may seek out a seasoned veteran, a Belfour or a Joseph type, to anchor their hopes in the stormy seas of the playoffs. Let us hope Woll is granted his opportunity and steers clear of the injury plague, while they seek out the guiding hand of an experienced guardian.

The Core Four: Matthews, Marner, Tavares & Nylander

In the realm of forwards, this was meant to be the hallowed ground, where dreams soared, and legends were born. Throughout the regular season, their commander, Matthews, etched his name in the annals of greatness, his stick a magic wand that conjured goals seemingly from thin air. He was a hockey deity, every movement orchestrated to perfection, every shot a symphony of precision.

Marner danced on ice, his vision a marvel, threading passes that defied logic. Tavares slowed by time, used his experience and world class stick handling skills to drive the second line and power play.

Nylander, perhaps spurred by contract uncertainty, or perhaps by an inner fire, blazed a trail of brilliance.

Knies, a warrior in the making, found glory in his second postseason, a promise of greatness yet to be fulfilled, echoing the legend of Shanahan.

Bertuzzi, too, emerged from the shadows, his resurgence a testament to the indomitable spirit that courses through Leaf Nation. Robertson, Dewar, Reaves, each a cog in the grand machine, some destined for glory, others will fade into the forgotten depths of history.

A rebirth not a rebuild

But amidst the triumphs, there lingers a sense of impending change, a storm gathering on the horizon. A new General Manager, a new President, their arrival is almost certain. Marner, the golden boy, the heartbeat of the team, may find himself cast into the winds of change, a casualty of the revolution. For the Leafs, change is not merely a suggestion; it is imperative. A rebirth, not a rebuild, fans and ownership demand, a fusion of skill and talent akin to the titans of Vegas and Edmonton.

Now What?

For eight years, Dubas, Keefe, and Shanahan (and Treliving for one) wove tales of glory on the ice. Goals poured forth like rivers, the ice itself a canvas for their masterful artistry. But as shadows lengthened and pressure mounted, the offence faltered, the goaltending stumbled, and dreams crumbled to dust.

In the days of Harold Ballard, heroes like Vaive, Salming, Palmateer, and Sittler fought valiantly, yet often found themselves overlooked and underappreciated. But this modern Leafs team embraced a style akin to the Russian greats – a ballet of passing and stickhandling, a celebration of skill and finesse.

A New Philosophy

Perhaps it’s time for a new chapter, a fresh direction. Perhaps it’s time to turn to the wisdom of the Russian school, to someone like Igor Larionov, to weave his magic behind the bench. As for a General Manager and President what about the Hunter brothers, Dale and Dave, who embodied Brian Burke’s philosophy of “hard-hitting, physical hockey,” where every shift is a battle and every game a war.

Quennville & Bowman

Alternatively, the Leafs could look back to the past and consider the dynamic duo of Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman, who shared in three Stanley Cup victories together in Chicago. Despite facing scrutiny and challenges, particularly in the aftermath of the 2021 scandal involving allegations of sexual assault by a former video coach, both Quenneville and Bowman may deserve a second chance. While not directly involved in the incidents, questions were raised about organizational culture and handling. Perhaps it’s time to give this proven pair another shot at success.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and save the conjecture for another day.

Final Thoughts

Entertainment-wise, these warriors earned their stripes, a solid 8 out of 10, with an E for effort that echoed through the ages. But now, as the winds of change whisper their song, the Leafs stand on the precipice of a new dawn, ready to forge a path to glory once more.

by Myles Shane

Other articles from totimes.ca – otttimes.ca – mtltimes.ca

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