Connect with us


Large challenge awaits GM Treliving in changing Maple Leafs culture



Get the latest from Terry Koshan straight to your inbox

Article content

Bring the passion. Oh, the Maple Leafs do all right, and it has become a spring ritual in Toronto. We see it every year, the passion. The passion the Leafs demonstrate when their season comes to an end has been something to behold.

Advertisement 2

Article content

It’s a tight group, goes the common refrain. They have belief in one another. Nothing wrong with the core. There’s a great foundation. But that’s where the post-playoffs passion ends on an annual basis.

Article content

If the Leafs invested the kind of passion in giving an honest assessment of themselves as they do in defending the team, they might have won a Stanley Cup by now.

There’s never any true anger, at least not in a public forum, among the Leafs when they lose in the playoffs. Disappointment, sure. But anger, no. Any measure of it would go a long way with fan base that has been programmed to be frustrated every spring.

There was a tweak a year ago came when the Leafs threw a curveball and won a series, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round before putting up little fight in a five-game loss against the Florida Panthers. 

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

We looked it up, to be sure: The Leafs were full of belief last May after they were eliminated by the Panthers.

The regularly scheduled first-round programming resumed on Saturday night in Boston when the Leafs lost in overtime in Game 7, their Cup hopes undone quickly when David Pastrnak scored off a set play before the sudden-death period was two minutes old. 

The most jarring part of the Leafs’ post-game interviews came when William Nylander dropped an F-bomb, thought not surprisingly, it came as part of an answer in which he was defending the core.

Not only do changes have to come because of the on-ice failures, if the majority of the core is going to return, a significant challenge for general manager Brad Treliving will be setting a new course in the culture of the group. 

Advertisement 4

Article content

If you’re only going to, say, delete Mitch Marner from the core via trade (and keep in mind that Marner, with a no-move clause, holds all of the cards), how does the rest of the group change its mindset? And how about the scenario in which Marner stays?

How does it get to a point where, if losing really is unacceptable, the group uses that to fuel it to actual post-season success in the following year? 

Five players who played on Saturday — Marner, Nylander, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly — remained from the team that lost in Game 7 in Boston in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.  

The man who is president, Brendan Shanahan, has continued to put his faith in the core, so perhaps it’s not a revelation that the group thinks success is just around the corner. When your boss is putting that kind of belief in you, you’re going to parrot it and won’t recognize when change is absolutely required.

Advertisement 5

Article content

We’ll be curious this week to see whether Shanahan, perhaps down to his last gasp as Leafs boss, changes his tune.

The only reason, decades from now, that fans will remember this Leafs era will be for its inability to win when it mattered most. No one will be bouncing grandkids on the knee, recalling with joy all those 100-point regular seasons from the early 2020s. 

Teams that lose in the first round, year after year, are not close to winning the Stanley Cup. The Leafs have not earned the right to think they are “right there.” 

Given the way Shanahan played the game — taking no B.S. from anyone while being productive and winning three Stanley Cups in a Hall of Fame career — after a decade, it remains bizarre that the Shanaplan never has had much use for the kind of hockey that made him successful.

Advertisement 6

Article content

We can’t see how the decision for new MLSE president and CEO Keith Pelley whether to retain Shanahan would be a difficult one. Shanahan has one year remaining on his contract, which should not serve as any sort of job security for 2024-25.

This version of the Leafs will gather one last time in the coming days for exit meetings and final media availabilities. 

Whether they truly look inward for answers, well, we’re not holding our breath. 

When it comes to passion in publicly holding themselves accountable, the Leafs’ habit is to take a pass.

There’s no reason to believe that will be any different this week.

X: @koshtorontosun

Article content

Continue Reading