If you tuned in to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season-ending availabilities in search of answers for why the team fell short in an opening-round upset against the Montreal Canadiens, you didn’t get any.
Their disappointment was clearly evident.
Maple Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe said he wasn’t sure if he slept following the Game 7 loss the Montreal on Monday night.
President and Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan said his team wanted to be a “beacon of hope” to fans in the city and Ontario during a pandemic, where they could not host fans inside Scotiabank Arena, until 550 health care workers arrived for their final game.
General Manager Kyle Dubas said failures like this “are part of the story that preludes success”.
No answers. Just the promise to stick with it.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander, the core four forwards that occupy nearly half of the team’s $81.5 million salary cap, aren’t going anywhere.
“Any team in the league would want them, but we like them,” said Shanahan. “We want to keep them here.”
As far as front office personnel, that too, will not change.
“Sheldon and Kyle did an excellent job last year in addressing the things we needed,” Shanahan said. “We’ve hit no finish lines, obviously, we’re not idiots, we’re really just going to try to continue to work along together. We’re going to continue to try to get better.
“The difference between winning and losing that series is not a tremendous difference. I think for the most part in that series we were in control, we weren’t able to put them away. And that’s the biggest thing we have to address.”
On several occasions, management cited a lack of killer instinct and the ability to close (arguably the same thing) that has to be addressed. They also sold the fact that other teams went through recurring disappointments only to see a championship follow at the end of the road.
The Maple Leafs cruised to a North Division-best 35-14-7 record and held that lead atop the group in the regular season since early February. With just Canadian opponents to deal with in the first two rounds of the postseason, the path for a deep playoff run for Toronto hadn’t looked so clear.
The Leafs jumped out to a 3-1 series lead before the Canadiens won the next three games, leaving Toronto “devastated”, a word repeated by Keefe and players on Wednesday.
Matthews and Marner combined for just one goal in series. Marner’s stretch of games without a playoff goal extended to 18 games.
The disappointment in the city is evident with some calling for some sort of change.
For now, that change will only come by way of the addition of support players, not unlike what the team went through in October.
There appears to be mutual interest in bringing forward Jason Spezza back. The veteran is coming off back-to-back, one-year, league-minimum, $700,000 contracts. The minimum salary increases to $750,000, so that will ensure that Spezza receives some sort of bump. You can argue he deserves more money after scoring 10 goals and adding 20 assists in 54 games. He also had three playoff goals during the 2021 playoffs.
Jack Campbell has officially taken the starting goaltender role. Dubas said in there would brining back pending unrestricted free agent Frederik Andersen back.
“It’s probably a different discussion than we would have had before the year,” Dubas said of Andersen.
If a deal isn’t made with Andersen, the Leafs will look to shore up the goaltending position.
The big question remains if Zach Hyman, another pending free agent, returns. He’ll be looking for a substantial raise from the $2.25 million he earned last season.
The forward scored 15 goals and added 18 assists in 43 regular-season games and proved to be the team’s most versatile forward playing anywhere in the lineup.
Before all of that wraps up, the Leafs will lose a player or the rights to a player when the Seattle Kraken hold their expansion draft.
Until then, the playoffs continue on without the Leafs and team continues to sell hope.
It’s just clear if the fans are ready to buy it again.