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Trust in Wes Clark, next steps for John Tavares, and why Guy Boucher is still around: Leaflets

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Photo credit:© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 month ago
It’s been over a month since the last Leaflets. Pretty much the second the Leafs excited the playoffs I was off to Japan and blissfully didn’t think about the Leafs for four weeks. Now that I’m a bit more caught up on the Leafs again it’s time for the weekly Leaflets takes to return and here are a few bite-sized thoughts on the team that seems as lost in the woods as ever.

Guy Boucher and the coaching carousel

Before getting into the Guy Boucher aspect of this there seem to be a few other coaching things I should get off my chest first.
The firing of Sheldon Keefe had to happen and it is a shame it didn’t happen last summer. It’s not that Keefe is a bad coach it’s just there comes a point where a coach can only go so far with a group and Sheldon Keefe reached the limit of what he could do with this group a long time ago. Everything needs to be back on the table from a coaching perspective and while I’m not going to say that Craig Berube represents an upgrade on Keefe, he was certainly among the best available options this summer and is guaranteed to try different things with this group.
The next thing that needs to be pointed out is that Lane Lambert is a savvy addition as well. I’m not thrilled it came at the cost of Dean Chynoweth who was misused this season as the penalty kill coach rather than keeping him with the defensive group. Craig Berube is far more familiar with Mike Van Ryn and will want to keep him in that defensive role so there wasn’t an opportunity for Chynoweth with the Leafs. This feels like it will be viewed as a mistake long term.
Now, Boucher. We might still see Guy Boucher shown the door and I don’t think there will be too many people heartbroken over that but he might have something to give. I’d say whatever he has to give it should be far away from the powerplay but there is also hope that Craig Berube and Guy Boucher can combine their efforts for success in this area.
Boucher as a penalty kill guy seems to make a lot more sense. He’s made his name for finding ways to clog the neutral zone and shooting lanes and that is where his coaching can add value. There is plenty that can offer in improving the neutral zone and defensive play of forwards as well and he has a mind for strategy when plays do need to be drawn up.
The leash on Boucher likely isn’t too long but given that Van Ryn and Boucher were Treliving hires, he likely wants them to get another look before pulling the plug.

John Tavares has to be used differently

If getting Mitch Marner to waive his no movement clause is impossible, getting John Tavares to move his is some Dr. Strange “one in 14 million” type odds. The fact that the last year or two of Tavares’ contract were always going to hurt isn’t much comfort for the Leafs now that they have to live it and there was probably an assumption that the multiple championships the team would have won by now under Mike Babcock would soften the blow. Things didn’t go as planned.
Last season saw John Tavares not play up to the standard the Leafs want from their second line centre and frankly the current state of his play should have him earmarked from the wing. This likely leaves the Leafs with either needing to acquire a couple of centres this summer to fill the 2C & 3C spots or possibly place Tavares on Minten’s wing and mentor the young Leaf. A third line with Tavares and Minten already shows a lot of promise.
There is also the lesser issue of what needs to be done with the captaincy and I guess that comes down to the level of importance that is placed on it. With Craig Berube coming in there seems like a reasonable checkpoint for the captain and coach to connect on whether he is the right guy for the role going forward. The Leafs putting it in the hands of Auston Matthews and giving him that extra accountability as the team’s superstar makes sense and if he doesn’t want it, Morgan Rielly has been the veteran mouthpiece of the team for years and deserving of the title as well.
Given the positive feedback from young Leafs like Knies, Cowan, and Minten regarding what Tavares has done for them, I think his calm/quiet demeanor might not translate to the spokesperson role fans and media demand from a Leafs leader, but he might still be the right guy for the role, if the intention is to keep Tavares.
The price tag and Leafs interest in bringing back Tavares for the 2025-26 season will also be a focus this summer as an extension will be an option and while Steven Stamkos is likely more deserving of a bigger contract than Tavares, it will serve as an interesting benchmark for what to expect and influence the direction the Leafs should go. With the steep spike coming in the salary cap, any opinion on whether Tavares should be in the Leafs’ long-term future seems premature.

Putting faith in Wes Clark

Over the next few weeks we will be flooded with draft rankings and prospect profiles. Suddenly everyone who has been actively ignoring junior, college, and European hockey is going to have opinions on who is the right fit for the Maple Leafs based largely on who are the best projected players to be available at the 23rd overall pick in the draft. I’ll admit to being one of those people and already find myself believing that Michael Hage of the Chicago Steel is the right answer for the Leafs despite not watching a single minute of USHL hockey this season.
What we do know is that with the Matthew Knies, Fraser Minten, and Easton Cowan selections, along with players like Topi Niemela the first reaction to those picks was often “who?” and that was quickly followed by a rant about how the Leafs could be so stupid to ignore [Player X] who was ranked higher by consensus.
In some cases [Player X] has followed up with a pretty good post draft season, but there also is a lot to feel good about when it comes to the Leafs draft track record.
I guess if there is a point to be made here, it’s get familiar with the draft eligible players, watch the youtube clips, read the profiles and rankings, but at the end of the day this is one area where an appeal to authority is welcome and while Toronto might not get Michael Hage like I want them to, I’m not going to feel bad about them going off the board.

ICYMI:

Here are some highlights from the past week on TLN:
3 players in the Stanley Cup Final who could end up signing in Toronto this summer by Nick Alberga
Treliving will only trade Marner for clear upgrade: ‘Mitch controls a lot of this whole thing’ by Mike Gould
Report: Maple Leafs haven’t spoken to John Tavares about possible trade by Arun Srinivasan
“Sounds like they’re making some changes” Rory McIlroy dines with member of Leafs organization, voices support for team by Alex Hobson
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