Game 5 preview: This may be the end of the Matthews-Marner era

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
The finite nature of time manifests itself in different ways through the prism of professional sports and eight years may as well be an eternity. It was precisely eight years ago that the Maple Leafs won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery, presenting the franchise with the right to select Auston Matthews, ushering in a new era of hope and near-certain prosperity.
Therein lies the cruel nature of time. It’s been eight years with Matthews and Mitch Marner at the forefront and the Maple Leafs have won one playoff round, despite assembling some of the best offenses of the modern era. Barack Obama was in his final year in office when Toronto won the 2016 lottery and two wildly unpopular U.S. presidents later, the Maple Leafs have squandered the gift of relative youth. It’s the incrementalism that will drive you mad, too.
Matthews, Marner and the Maple Leafs arrived a year ahead of schedule in April 2017, pushing the Washington Capitals to six hard-fought games. I gave them a standing ovation in my newsroom, with the unspoken promise that they would be back. The following two years brought on two titanic battles against the Boston Bruins, plagued by indiscipline and untimely goaltending woes. We’d all like to forget 2020 for reasons that transcend sports. And surely the world resumed to normal when the Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 lead against an undertalented Montreal Canadiens squad. That was supposed to be the nadir. This is a new, fresh hell that awaits the Maple Leafs in 2024.
Sheldon Keefe has seemingly run out of ideas, while his two best players, Matthews and William Nylander, have fought through unforeseen illnesses. Matthews’ ongoing battle with an undisclosed ailment may keep him out of the most important game of his career. It’s a unique permutation of bad luck compounded by the cumulative frustrations with a team that perpetually underperforms. The benefit of the doubt was surrendered in 2021. Maybe this team simply isn’t good enough. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Ryan Reaves may be correct, and perhaps Game 5 will be the first step towards a franchise-defining comeback. Joseph Woll takes over from Ilya Samsonov — and for the second consecutive spring, the Maple Leafs’ season may come to an end with Woll submitting a valiant effort in a losing cause. What has become abundantly clear is that a Game 5 loss will spell the end of the Matthews-Marner era. Running it back for the ninth consecutive year is an untenable proposition. Everyone but Matthews can go. Keefe’s inability to adapt is self-evident and he will be the first to go.
This was supposed to be an era of renewed prosperity for the Maple Leafs. We’ve gone through several electoral cycles with the same core at the forefront, with the promise of a Stanley Cup completely diminished. This may be the end of the Matthews-Marner era, get your last glimpses in while you can.

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