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Maple Leafs offseason outlook: What to do with Mitch Marner, John Tavares, & Sheldon Keefe after playoff exit | Sporting News Canada

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The great Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

If the Maple Leafs still expect to win a Stanley Cup with their current core group in place, then the organization is reaching Hannibal Lecter-levels of lunacy.

Another postseason, another year of Toronto exiting the Stanley Cup playoffs in the early stages. The Maple Leafs fell to the Bruins in Saturday night’s Game 7, losing their Eastern Conference first-round series 4-3. Not only does it mark yet another loss to Boston in a winner-take-all game, but Toronto ends the season once again without making a deep postseason run. 

It seemed like Toronto might have finally gotten over the hump last year. The team won its first playoff series for the first time since 2004 when the Leafs bounced the Lightning in the first round. However, Auston Matthews and Co. had no answer in the second round for the Panthers, falling five games to the eventual Eastern Conference champs. 

This year, the team faced its biggest rival for the fourth time since 2013, but the result ended up the exact same — a loss in seven games. Boston continues to live in the nightmares of those who sport the blue and white, knocking off the Leafs yet again.  

Last offseason, the team went out and made a change at general manager and added more grit to the lineup. That was enough for a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division and one playoff win. 

So, once again, the Leafs are back in familiar territory. When push came to shove, the star group of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares failed to deliver (again), leaving the team with pressing questions heading into the summer (again). 

What is next for the Leafs? The Sporting News dives into what the offseason could look like for Toronto after another early playoff exit. 

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Will the Maple Leafs trade Mitch Marner or John Tavares?

The Maple Leafs’ front office has done everything in its power to keep the “Core Four” of Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander together. That no longer can be the case. 

Every year since Tavares signed with the team in the 2018 offseason, the roster has been built around that forward group. The team sacrificed its forward depth, reinforcements on the blue line, and a true No. 1 goalie to keep the foursome together, but that came back to bite them. It also resulted in the firing of general manager Kyle Dubas last offseason. 

With a new GM put in place this year in Brad Treliving, the onus was shifted completely to the players and coaching staff. After ending the season in a similar fashion to the past seven playoffs, there is no other option now than to split up the group — but it’s not as easy as it sounds. 

Marner and Tavares are the two most likely candidates to be moved, as both have one year remaining on their current contracts before hitting free agency in 2025. While trading them is the logical solution, it’s a tricky one.

The pair both have full no-trade clauses in their contracts, meaning they would have to agree to waive their NMCs in order to facilitate a deal. Both Marner and Tavares have the right to veto a trade, electing to stay in Toronto for another year to run it back. 

It’s hard to see Tavares waive his clause to leave Toronto. Not only is he the captain of the team, but the Leafs also are his hometown team, a big reason why he took less money in free agency in 2018 to join the club. It’s also tough to envision Marner waiving his no-trade clause after spending the first eight seasons of his NHL career with the organization.

While both would potentially be rentals with big cap hits, they also are two of the best forwards in the game, and the return for Toronto would be key. Marner is a career 1.11 point-per-game player and has threatened to hit 100 points on numerous occasions, along with being a standout defensive player. Tavares’ production dipped a bit this past season, but he has floated right around a point-per-game in recent years and is one of the best faceoff men in the league. 

Trading one of those core pieces is likely the best option for the Maple Leafs in order to re-tool. However, just because it’s the best way to attack this offseason doesn’t make it the most realistic.

Will the Maple Leafs fire Sheldon Keefe?

Regardless of whether or not the core pieces on the roster move, the days of Sheldon Keefe as head coach of the Maple Leafs are numbered. 

The coach was in hot water last offseason after the team was bounced in the second round by the Panthers. While there was plenty of speculation of a potential change at the position, the front office elected instead to part ways with Dubas, allowing Keefe to stay for another season. 

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Treliving won’t be Keefe’s scapegoat this year. There is a good chance that Keefe won’t be on the Toronto bench when the fall comes around, and those odds absolutely increase if the team can’t make a change in its core personnel on the roster. Numerous times throughout the season, the Leafs head coach was criticized for his lack of in-game adjustments, poor penalty kill, and questionable late-game decisions. 

Of course, the biggest argument against him is the most obvious one — just one playoff-round win in five postseason appearances. 

It’s also a new era in the NHL. With the Kraken recently firing head coach Dave Hakstol, there will be 17 different head coaching changes since the end of the 2022-23 season. Coaches nowadays simply do not have the long leash their predecessors may have been granted — and that’s with Keefe already being one of the longest-tenured active head coaches. 

There are several solid options available on the head coaching market who the Leafs could look at. Craig Berube, who turned the Blues around during the 2018-19 season en route to a Stanley Cup win, is going to receive a plethora of interest around the league. Dean Evason, Todd McLellan, and Jay Woodcroft also all lost their jobs this past season, but there are arguments to be made if they were warranted or not. Gerard Gallant is another name that would make sense to bring to Toronto.  

Is Keefe the entire problem? Definitely not. But at this point, does it appear he’s part of the solution moving forward? It’s hard to argue the case for keeping him. 

Will the Maple Leafs fire Brendan Shanahan?

One part of sports that sometimes is lost on fans is that at the end of the day, it’s a business. You can point the finger at the players, coaches, and general manager all you want, but there are also decisions coming from up top. 

After a decade in the role of team president and alternate governor, this may be the end of Brendan Shanahan’s time with the Maple Leafs. 

He may not get nearly as much of the blame as the hockey club itself, but Shanahan has finished his 10th season in his current role, and his greatest accomplishment to date is breaking the Leafs’ streak of losing in the first round. Sure, he helped the team out of its rebuild in the early 2010s, blossoming into one of the top regular-season teams in the league, but that’s about it. 

The biggest indicator of Shanahan’s clock potentially running out in Toronto was news that broke earlier in the year. On April 2, Keith Pelley officially took over as the new CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the group that owns the hockey club. Pelley is essentially Shanahan’s new boss, and when addressing his role with the organization, the new CEO did not mince words about his plans for the future. 

“We’re not afraid of change,” Pelle said “If you’re afraid of change, you risk the possibility of falling behind, and we’re not going to fall behind.”

Good luck to Shanahan on his quest to convince Pelley that his work since 2014 is enough to keep him safe from the pending changes.  

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