All quiet on the Maple Leafs front, lack of centres, and Keefe’s tenure: Leaflets

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
5 months ago
It’s All-Star weekend and if you are in Toronto or area and are able to take advantage of the number of hockey related events going on right now, I’m sure it’s a very enjoyable weekend. For those of us at home, far from the event all of the NHL’s attempts at revamping the event seem to be coming up short. The draft came up short on account of holding the event too early and Michael Buble being the only one who understood the assignment. Having everyone talk over each other, bog down the draft with rules, and spare the feelings of someone being picked last watered the event down to the point where it was as unappealing as a fantasy hockey draft.
The skills competition was improved but three hours to complete is a little much. Having 11 out of the 12 players put in a solid effort was a refreshing change though and the event seemed to become more entertaining as the night went on. This and the PWHL showcase will be the highlights of the weekend because people want to see athletes putting in an effort.
The All-Star game itself hasn’t been played yet and it has never been good.  3 on 3 is a great short term novelty but prolonged periods of it in games without anything on the line make for bad TV. It’s not like bad All-Star games are unique to the NHL, it is a rare instance where they can at least tout being better than the NFL, but in comparison MLB and the NBA both are still better at creating moments that people will want to tune in for even if fans know the product itself is weak.
As ridiculous as the Four Nation tournament the NHL is looking to hold sounds, it is definitely a step in the right direction compared to the All-Star game.
Here are some other stray thoughts:

The thinning centre market

It would have been cool if the Leafs made a big splash with a big trade at the All-Star game. Toronto bringing in Elias Lindholm for instance and being able to trot another All-Star around Toronto before he made his Leafs debut would have been huge and would have made for a huge weekend. Even having boring Sean Monahan added to the lineup in a weekend where all eyes were on Toronto would have been huge, but in both cases I’m not sure you can make a case for Toronto spending that much on rentals and that is hopefully why there isn’t a big Chris Tanev moment going on right now.
So let’s ignore the Leafs not doing anything this weekend for now and focus on the centre market which has seen it’s two headlining names disappear over a month before the trade deadline.
The Leafs might not have had a centre as their first priority but with John Tavares struggling of late, Max Domi being hard to trust in 2/3rds of the rink, and David Kampf being nothing short of a disaster this season, it stands to reason that the Leafs still had a centre as a potential target, if things were going well enough to be buyers at the deadline.
At the top of the list is Adam Henrique and rightfully so. He’ll get something close to the Monahan treatment if the Ducks are willing to eat salary. That also pretty much prices him out of Toronto.
The next wave of targets seems to be Jack Roslovic and Scott Laughton.
Roslovic has been struggling and has been moved to the third line wing in Columbus which doesn’t exactly bode well for him coming in and being a difference maker, and as much as Scott Laughton’s physical presence and remembrance of him a strong middle six option last season for the Flyers, that doesn’t change the fact that this year he’s a fourth line centre and comes with a price tag that is just as bad as David Kampf’s.
The centre position won’t exactly become any easier to address this summer as few names beyond those rentals on the move now will be hitting the free agent market. This is either going to put greater emphasis on homegrowing talent, which the Leafs have in Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan, or NHL GMs might have to start doing the unthinkable and make actual hockey trades.

Quiet is good

Up until now I’ve portrayed the Leafs being quiet as a bad thing. Sure the centre market is emptying out and the All-Star game would have been a great time to make a splash, but Toronto is very much in a wait and see position to determine what comes next for them. Even a player like Auston Matthews can only elevate a team so much and if the Leafs aren’t absolutely cooking come trade deadline time it’s hard to further mortgage the Leafs future to bank on Chris Tanev being the answer for two months.
The next month seems like it is going to be absolutely painful to watch as teams maneuver in advance of the trade deadline and we suffer through “the Leafs could have used that guy” and “that’s all it cost to get him” talk.
And while I am by no means a believer in Brad Treliving, pushing this team to the 11th hour before deciding to make changes is likely the right call.
The Leafs hold 8 picks between the 3rd and 7th round in the 2024 draft and all of these are wonderfully suited towards the last minute shopping that goes on as the trade deadline expires. The best play at this point is likely for Brad Treliving to pepper the league with low ball offers on as many players as he can and hope that someone will return his call with 15 minutes to go before the trade deadline hits. Even if the Leafs don’t end up with definitive upgrades they can benefit from having a few new options to try and a month to figure out how everyone fits in the lineup.

Sheldon Keefe is the 5th longest serving NHL head coach

With the recent termination of Todd McLellan by the LA Kings, Sheldon Keefe has moved up to the 5th spot in the head coaching ranks. Jon Cooper, Mike Sullivan, Jared Bednar, and Rod Brind’Amour are the only ones ahead of him, and Brind’Amour’s contract expires this summer.
This is interesting on a couple of fronts. The first is that the group of four who have been at it longer than Keefe all have Jack Adams wins (or nominations) to their credit as well as three of the four are Stanley Cup winners. While Keefe has had an excellent regular season record, it hasn’t translated to the success the others have had and despite his record there hasn’t been much consideration given to Sheldon Keefe as a Jack Adams candidate either.
Another thing that is hard to ignore is the similarities in records between the Kings and the Leafs. The Kings pulled the plug after 48 games and a 23-15-10 record for 56 points. The Leafs have played 47 games and have a 25-14-8 record for 58 points. The Kings are a playoff team at this point and will likely stay that way but they’ve decided their recent eight game winless streak that was followed up with a 3-4-2 stretch warranted the change. It might have been the Kings hot start that set McLellan up for this harsher fall.
Still, it’s hard not to think that the Leafs might be inspired to circle back around on Keefe given this recent decision. The volume of roster changes the Leafs could benefit from but the lack of quality replacement options should have the Leafs exploring the idea that a coaching change might be the easiest way out at this point.
Brad Treliving’s history with coaches says that Keefe is safe for now and I’d fully expect him to last into the summer. That being said, a lot of Toronto eyes should be on the Kings to see how an interim coach navigates the next few months compared to what Keefe does in Toronto.

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