Honestly, I don’t know where to start with this one, so let’s skip the boring intro and get right to it. This season was a waste, no doubt about it.
This season began, and ended, on July 1st. We signed John Tavares, and then that’s it. We might as well had done nothing this year, because just about everything that happened after that doesn’t matter now.
Mitch Marner had a 90 point season? That’s cool! Tavares almost scored 50 in his debut season as a Leaf? Nice! Matthews hit 70 for the first time in his career? Neato! Rielly had a Norris calibre season? That’s dope! We had three different series leads during the series against the Bruins and pushed them to the brink? Awesome!
But guess what. It doesn’t matter.
Because in the end, we ended up in the exact same place as last season: losing game 7 to the Bruins. And the Leafs only have themselves to blame.
Flash back to Game 1 of the season against Montreal. I remember watching that game, and scrolling through Twitter, and there was one thing everyone was complaining about.
The Leafs were making too many stretch passes. Every time the team tried to go up the ice, stretch pass. It led to the Leafs getting caved in for most of the game, and they only won because of Freddie being unreal, and goals from Matthews and Tavares.
That would be a problem that plagued the Leafs for most of the season: their over-reliance on stretch passes as a breakout method, their goaltending bailing them out, and their elite goal scorers finishing the games for them.
“But it’s just the Leafs hiding their strategy for the playoffs. They’ll be a lot better once the postseason comes around.”
Funny enough, I almost believed them. When Game 1 against Boston came around, and the Leafs played one of the best performances of the year, I thought that maybe things had changed. This is a team that looks like it’s ready to conquer it’s demons.
But I’ve been wrong before. Heck, my bracket is 0/6 at the time of writing this article, so what do I know.
Twice, the Leafs had a home game with an opportunity to put a stranglehold on this series. Once to put them up 3-1, and another to win the series 4-2. And they didn’t, and that should’ve been the moment I stopped believing that they could do it.
So now what. We come into this year with a much better team, and the last year before the cap crunch begins, and at the end of the year, no progress.
We had career years from Matthews, Johnson, Kapanen, Hyman, Tavares, Marner, Rielly, Freddy (til March), even Freddy the Goat had a breakout year, but at the end of the year, no progress.
The hockey gods even lined it up for us. Ask yourself, of the remaining teams, who scares you? The Blues? The Knights? Maybe the Caps? But, that’s really it. After the Bruins, the Cup was *right there*, but at the end of the year, no progress.
Why? Because when game 7 came, the Leafs lost because of the same mistakes they were making in Game 1 against Montreal. The Leafs had an easily predictable strategy, and once again, the Bruins played it like a fiddle. They were overwhelmed, and Freddie and the goal scorers weren’t there for them this time. When time came to shorten the bench, it wasn’t. The fourth line could be spotted in the final 10 minutes when they should’ve been stapled to the bench.
So, what should be done?
The glaring issue has never really been the Leafs personnel, because no matter who’s in the lineup, they’re making the same mistakes over and over again. It’s been four years, and this time, it falls on the boys behind the bench.
I’m not saying that Babcock should be fired. At least, not yet. But, changes need to be made.
First off, Smith and Hiller should be gone after the atrocious series the special teams had. How a power play with this many offensive weapons isn’t the most dangerous in the league is astonishing, and the fact that even when it didn’t work, almost no changes were made throughout the year, means Hiller should be facing the consequences. And when the PK just lets one of the best power plays set up and work their magic all series, means Smith should be as well.
Then, I think Dubas needs to have a long talk with Babcock. Make it clear to him that he needs to stop being stubborn. Babcock likes things a certain way, but guess what, it hasn’t worked. In fact, it’s done the opposite, it’s lost them games, lost them home ice advantage, and lost them a series. You take away his toys (ie. Hainsey, Zaitsev, Marleau, and Brown), and tell Babs he needs to start listening to more ideas (and actually accept them for once). And if he doesn’t comply, or he tries to go down swinging, then you fire him.
It’s still not just the coaching staff though. Too often, this team got by on having poor starts and only really showing up late when they needed a couple goals. They could do it against weaker teams, but hopefully Boston showed them that they can’t do it all the time. In fact, don’t do it ever. I hate to call a team lazy, but it just seemed like this team did not reach it’s ceiling.
Also, Nazem, really? You pull the same crap you did last year in the first round and cost the Leafs the series AGAIN? Grow up a bit more, will you. Please?
It sucks though. This was supposed to be a fun year. We finally land the big fish free agent, and we finally have this dynamic, Cup contending team, and it’s all wasted. See you in September boys, hopefully you all learned your lesson this time.