Toronto In Treatment
Updated: Jun 13, 2021
By Mike Toth
Some people love the Leafs.
Some people loathe the Leafs.
But EVERYONE gets a kick out of psychoanalyzing the Leafs.
It's the national pastime among Canadian hockey fans. So with the embarrassing collapse against Montreal still fresh in the (tortured) minds of Leafs Nation, let's break out the old couch and notebook to sort through some of the mental carnage
As the Leafs found out facing Carey Price, everything starts between the pipes.
But what's between the ears of Leafs goalie Jack Campbell?
Besides a weak game seven Brendan Gallagher goal, Campbell was pretty solid against the Canadiens and also had a strong regular season.
Does Campbell, however, have the mental strength to serve as a legitimate number one netminder?
To get there, Jack will have to be a lot less jumpy. Everyone raves about what a nice guy Campell is, and that's great. But I've always believed if you have to work too hard to be a nice guy, it can come across as being a little desperate. Patting teammates with his stick after every play, no matter how routine; constantly gushing to the media about how wonderful life is as a Leaf - Campbell often comes across as an over-syrupy Facebook page.
At the same time, Campbell's over-the-top critiques of his own play are even more cringe-worthy. He described his game seven gaffe, for example, as "the worst goal I've ever given up."
Let's not get too carried away.
Campbell was once considered a first round bust who has twice been traded. I'm sure if we fired up the YouTube highlights we could find a few stinkers that have slipped by Jack over the years.
In short, Campbell needs to calm down, quit trying to be everyone's buddy and leap off the emotional rollercoaster.
How about taking a page out of the calm and collected book of Price?
No wonder the opposition fires so many shots at the Habs net. Price is so relaxed that the other team must wonder if he's even awake back there.
Speaking of taking shots, that brings us to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. They took lots of shots at Price. But in the end, they managed only one measly goal between them - dreadful production for a pair making a combined $23 million per season.
The M & M boys obviously realize that the play-off jungle is a completely different beast compared to the free range of the regular season.
But what to actually do about it?
I loved the suggestion from my former Sportsnet colleague, Nick Kypreos. Nick believes that Matthews and Marner should go to the movies this summer. (No, not to catch LeBron James and his "Space Jam" remake.) Instead, Kypreos says the Toronto twosome should watch video of past championship one-two punches, such as Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to learn what it takes to get to the next level.
While we're on the topic of movies, what about the Leafs supporting cast?
I was never a fan of bringing in Joe Thornton. That's not to knock the guy, as he's a surefire hall-of-famer and a heckuva nice guy.
But therein lies the problem.
The Leafs have too many nice guys - Thornton, Campbell, Jason Spezza, etc. When Thornton, for instance, was asked at training camp about the pressures of playing in Toronto, he famously replied, "I got no stress, man."
But considering the underachieving squad's abysmal play-off record over the last half-century, there better be a little freaking stress in Leafland. Sure, all the young Buds love Jumbo Joe and the rest of the mild-mannered vets. But while nice guys don't ALWAYS finish last, they also don't win too many Stanley Cups.
Corey Perry isn't on anybody's nice guy list. He has, however, won a Cup and reports say he desperately wanted to sign with the Leafs - the team he cheered for growing up in Peterborough, Ontario. As it turned out though, the Leafs turned the gritty forward down and he wound up signing a one year deal with Montreal
So, how did that work out for Toronto?
Well, other than Perry knocking John Tavares out of game one thanks to an accidental knee to the noggin, and then scoring the series-winning goal in game seven…..just peachy.
Depending on how the Habs amazing play-off journey ends up and whether Perry holds a grudge over being snubbed by the Leafs, GM Kyle Dubas should beg Perry to sign with Toronto next year to help them transition into a team that's a lot more naughty and a lot less nice.
Dubas and coach Sheldon Keefe, of course, are the two buddies in charge of making roster decisions for the Buds. But they both need to take a long look in the mirror. Dubas is the one who overpaid his Cupless "Core Four" (Matthews, Marner, Tavares and William Nylander) and is constantly telling the world how marvelous they all are.
That's a problem on two levels.
It fails to hold the big pay/small play-off crew accountable for their brutal postseason record. In addition, overvaluing their talent makes it a lot tougher to negotiate with another team if the Leafs actually decide to trade one of the little darlings.
Dubas and Keefe also need to drop their "we re-invented the game" routine. Everybody knows they love skill and puck possession. But you also have to be willing to adapt.
How many goals did the Leafs give up against Montreal because of turnovers caused by trying to make too many cute plays at the Habs blue line?
Likely prompted by team president Brendan Shanahan, (who was tough as nails when he played), Dubas did actually add a little will to go with all the Leafs skill this season.
But what's the use of owning big bodies such as Wayne Simmonds and Nick Foligno if you don't allow them to do what they do best?
Sure, the Leafs have a ton of talent. But sometimes, especially in the bash and crash play-offs, forget about all the dipsy doodles; the smart play is to dump the puck into a d-man's corner and then go hammer the poor guy.
On that note, I think we've hammered the poor Leafs enough for one blog.
You have to understand, however, that one of the annual rites of spring is for Leafs watchers to psychoanalyze the squad to try and understand what went wrong.
It's a classic case of driving yourself crazy in an attempt to figure out why your favorite team is one big mental mess.