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The Leafs Management press availability offers little in the way of optimism

This quote from Brendan Shanahan speaks largely to the tone of the Leafs Management press availability. There was no comfort to be found here. No excuses. No blame. What we found was Dubas is unwilling to put any of this on individuals, and there is still a united front of optimism around this group, either rightly or wrongly.

I couldn’t help but feel that Shanahan came across most displeased of the group, and that could lead to interesting speculation in the future, especially with a talented GM candidate like Laurence Gilman waiting in the wings, and Bruce Boudreau available for hire.

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For now, we’ll assume the band will be back together next year.

Take votes of confidence with a grain of salt in hockey, but nothing to date leads us to believe that Shanahan isn’t a man of his word. He’s certainly going to want to see what Dubas and Keefe can accomplish together.

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Somehow it’s a little comforting to know that what fans say was what the GM saw, and the Leafs never bothered showing up for this series. Though that’s something that is very much on him and Keefe to address. The fact they pushed it to five games after that terrible Game One might be a credit to Keefe, but certainly speaks to the need that there might be some personnel changes coming.

The standings kinda lied for the Leafs this season. All teams get injuries, but the Leafs rarely iced a healthy lineup. Keefe did claw the Leafs back from Babcock’s deficit, but the wheels came off again, largely because of defense injuries and inconsistent goaltending. I wouldn’t commit to a try it again with this group next season and see what they’ve got, but this team was fighting an uphill battle all season.

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This is worth noting because the question was asked by Steve Simmons. The Leafs still have little time for dealing with him, and I wonder if any other reporter asked this if there would have been a more thoughtful answer. The reality is the Leafs are best if they are a skill first team, and generally this group fits that mold. Dubas isn’t wrong in putting his support behind them, and frankly he’d be tanking the trade value of players if he started throwing them under the bus.

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The big four players do provide the Leafs with an awful lot. I don’t think that’s a lie, but there needs to be some consideration given to, what if it was the big three and the rest of the lineup had some of those financial resources spread around.

Don’t bank on miracle trades or lottery picks seems like straight forward advice. The challenge is that you won’t find a team willing to trade a Seth Jones, you need to find a team that potentially has the next Seth Jones, they can’t break into the top four in that defensive lineup yet, and the Leafs have something they need. This is why I will continue to suggest the Leafs explore options like Ethan Bear who appears to have a next level beyond what he has shown this year in Edmonton.

This is a choppy quote, that I hope doesn’t fully capture what Dubas is saying. I hope his vision is somewhat steady, but he’s refining it to a degree. Under Burke it seemed like every summer he’d have a new idea of how the Leafs were going to win, and do a half-assed job of addressing that vision. With Dubas I hope we’re just seeing tweaks, and visually it seems like the vision is largely similar year to year.

Shanahan also had a quote addressing the poor performance of team defense, which is important. While Dubas doesn’t want to criticize the blueline he built, there is more to it than just the goals. Toronto spent a lot of time penned in their own zone, the defense struggled to move the puck up ice against the Blue Jackets 1-2-2 forecheck, and outside of Rielly, there wasn’t much support in the offensive zone. While the Leafs may not need to go out and land Pietrangelo at all costs, they need to make changes to a defense that works for Sheldon Keefe.

This is pretty disheartening considering the magnitude of the trade. That Barrie and Kerfoot weren’t given much support from the Leafs organization and didn’t really get much in the way of team reaching out is a huge flaw, and contributed to a wasted year for Barrie, and slow adjustment of Alex Kerfoot. While it’s nice that Dubas is owning up to a mistake, this seems like something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I firmly believe that the criticism of Marner’s contract should be more on Dubas than on Marner anyway. So Marner’s failure to live up to that contract also reflects more on Dubas. That being said, Marner’s quote about not being into Game One is worthy of criticism. His inability to play physically, his unwillingness to shoot, and the predictability of his decisions all warrant criticism beyond the contract. That said, he’s a very good player and his talent outweigh those flaws, but you can never fully remove cap hit from player evaluation, and it’s more than fair to say the Leafs didn’t get $11M of hockey out of Mitch Marner this year.

The Leafs have $75.5M committed to 15 roster players, with 8 spots to fill. That’s $6M to spread around. Assuming they don’t go with 3 reserve players, that becomes a bit better, but that’s not enough to add anyone of significance, and the Leafs still need to trade some salary to make other changes. I also feel like now is a good time to remind everyone the Leafs don’t have a first round pick either.

A cheap Spezza contract, entry level deals for Liljegren, Sandin, Robertson, Lehtonen, Barabanov, and Korshkov could help, but that still doesn’t leave any money to sign Mikheyev or Dermott.

You also don’t need to spend that much time running scrimmages either. Sorry, I generally agree with what Keefe is saying here, but there certainly seemed like a lot more the Leafs could have done, at least from my distant vantage point.

Hopefully it happens even before then. The Leafs players better have some interesting homework assignments. While we might not be feeling great about the Leafs at the moment, this is still a great baseline for future success. I don’t want to dismiss the need for things to change significantly as well, but the Leafs at least have the pieces they need to win and the pieces they need for players who give them an even better chance at winning.

Here are some quotes from the Players availability earlier today:

Leafs players make a delicious word salad