Wait, that’s not entirely true. There are some worthwhile takeaways that should be made here, but nothing to do with the mix of skill and grit that you’ll probably read elsewhere. Those columns are plentiful in Toronto papers today, and if that’s your bag, go get your jollies there.
The lessons that are probably worth learning, it’s acquire as many of the best players as possible and work like hell to keep them on your team. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is an embarrassment of riches. Let’s not try to pretend the Leafs have a core like that, and we haven’t even factored in “supporting players” like McDonagh, and Sergachev. Players like Johnson, Palat, Gourde, Killorn, Pacquette, Coleman, and Cirielli would get a hell of a lot of fanfare elsewhere, but have accepted secondary roles on the Lightning. The Leafs secondary players cannot match that group. To say the Leafs need to stick with their group and trust they’ll get to where the Lightning would be committing to being a second tier team within their division. They need to find a way to get better. Then they can try and keep that group together.
The whole notion that the Lightning was a core that stuck together is pretty wild to begin with. There has been a lot of movement on the competitive Lightning teams over the past few years. They moved on from Martin St. Louis during their competitive window. They brought in and did not bring back J.T. Miller. Sergachev is on the Lightning because they made the bold move to trade a 3rd overall pick in Jonathan Drouin.
Even looking at the past year there were moves that have been scoffed at, filling up the bottom of their roster with fringe defensemen. Flipping first round picks for Blake Coleman (alright that always seemed smart), and Barclay Goodrow in what promises to be a strong draft year. The lesson learned in the GM office is probably to be bold when you think your team is ready to take this next step.
The Lightning reaffirm a lot of things that come with having a clear vision. They are a skill first team. They are a team that recognizes the value of affordable role players. They know to swing for the fences on depth. They have the right coach to coach the team the GM has built (or the GM’s predecessor). The Lightning are all these things and it still took them seven plus years of the Jon Cooper era, which included a Cup Finals loss, and a step back year where they missed the playoffs. They stuck to their vision and built the team that worked for Yzerman/Brisebois and Cooper. That’s probably the lesson to take away from this. A steady upward trajectory with setbacks will occur, but there was little doubt what Lightning hockey was supposed to look like and they stuck to it. Hopefully the Leafs can do the same, but unfortunately it’s going to require patience and we should probably just focus on having a team that can win a playoff round first.