Young (Blue) Blood
By Max Toth
Wow! That was over pretty darn quickly.
Then again, at least Leafs Nation is getting used to this "one and done" play-off routine.
For the fourth straight season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have once again lost an opening round series after a sluggish performance in the deciding game. This time around, it was a humbling 3-0 defeat in game 5 of a pandemic play-in round against the suffocating Columbus Blue Jackets. Two summers ago, after a game seven loss to the Boston Bruins crushed their Stanley Cup dreams, the Leafs promoted 32-year old Kyle Dubas to General Manager. Since then Dubas has received mixed reviews from both fans and media, especially after taking a few swings and misses last summer.
So, what would happen if Leafs President Brendan Shanahan suddenly gave Dubas the boot and decided to hire an even younger GM? Like, how about 14 years young? In other words, yup, how about if yours truly landed the job?
What would I do if I was GM of the Leafs?
Glad you asked, and I'll get it out of the way right off the bat; DE-FENCE! Leafs fans have been clamouring for the club to shore up the blue line for what seems like eons. Dubas’s previously mentioned misses included big trades for defencemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci, neither of whom have been the answer for the Blue and White's defensive struggles. Luckily for the Leafs, they have an embarrassment of riches at the forward spot. So If I was running the show in LeafLand, I'd look at an unexpected trade piece. 18 year old Nick Robertson made big waves throughout the league when he made the Leafs post-season roster, so his stock would be pretty high amongst other GM's. The sky is the limit for Robertson, which would entice rebuilding squads to make a play for him. But he’s still somewhat of an untried commodity, which is why it would be easier to swallow trading him as opposed to more established gunners like Mitch Marner or William Nylander. By biting the bullet and sacrificing some of their future, the Leafs could trade Robertson and pick up a couple of grit and grind D-Men without surrendering much on offence.
The play of goaltender Frederik Andersen has been one of the hottest topics of discussion amongst Leafs Nation. When it comes right down to it though, Freddy's age and contract just don’t align with the Leafs long-term plans and it seems likely he’ll be packing up his pads and moving on next summer when his contract expires. Once that happens, the Leafs will obviously need a replacement and if I was in charge, I'd look for that masked man in this year's draft. The main goaltending attraction this year is Russian superstar Yaroslav Askarov. But because the Bud's don't own a first round pick in the October 9th draft, the Leafs won’t have a shot at Askarov unless they somehow trade up to get him. But there are still some intriguing puck stopping prospects out there besides Askarov. Nico Daws, for example, helped protect the crease for gold medal champion Team Canada at this year's World Juniors. Daws projects to be more of a third round pick though, so Toronto would either have to reach for him in the second or hope he falls to them in the fourth round. A more realistic plan, and maybe even a better one, would be American netminder Drew Commesso, who they could snatch in the fourth round. Comesso has been praised for displaying a cool hand under pressure and could be an eventual upgrade on Andersen, who has displayed an unfortunate knack for allowing too many softies to get by him in the play-offs
So with the defence and goaltending taken care of, it's time to focus on the offence. Welcome to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" department. Much has been made of the Leafs scoring problems in the Columbus series. But it's important not to over-react to such a small sample size. Yes, some of the Leafs snipers shot blanks against the Blue Jackets. But do you really believe that one of the most potent attacks in the entire league is suddenly going to completely dry up? By far the most complete performance Toronto turned in against Columbus was game two, when they drew the Blue Jackets into five stick infractions and made it obvious that Columbus just couldn’t keep up with their blazing team speed. Throughout the rest of the series, however, the Leafs played at a pace that was simply too lifeless, as their forwards seemed more intent on defending than scoring goals. During the summer camp leading into the series, Coach Sheldon Keefe made a huge deal about making sure the Leafs forwards were taking a "defence first" approach. That was exactly opposite to the "run and gun" style the rookie coach preached during the regular season, and the sudden switch of gears seemed to throw a lot of Toronto’s key players off their game.
If I was in charge?
A quick meeting with Keefe would be in order, where I'd deliver a not-so-gentle reminder to the coach to stick with the original game plan and let the horses run wild.
Of course, it's pretty easy to have all the answers when you're 14-years old and don't have to face the music when some of your decisions crash and burn. But there's nothing wrong with fantasizing about a dream job.
Think about it.
When Kyle Dubas was 14, I bet even he didn't think he'd be running the Toronto Maple Leafs just 18 years later. But if the Leafs lose another first round series next year, Kyle's dream job might turn into a nightmare.
Come to think of it, being the GM in Toronto might be way too much pressure.
Hey! Does anybody know how old Joe Bowen was when he started broadcasting Leafs games?