How Long Has It Been?
20,167 days. That’s how long it has been since the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup. To save you all from doing the math, the year was 1967. To make matters worse, somehow, the Leafs have not even won a playoff round since 2004, when they beat their provincial rival, the Ottawa Senators, in 7 games. Since then, nothing, including 10 years of missing the playoffs altogether. The most success they have had is 2 consecutive Western Conference Finals appearances when they had Leafs legends Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour in 1993 and 1994.
Best Leafs Team Ever?
The Maple Leafs currently have a lineup that includes the likes of Auston Matthews, who is currently the holder of the Hart and Rocket Richard trophies, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly. They have multiple players from the Greater Toronto Area. Players that have come home to play. Play in the hopes that they are part of the team that can finally end the drought that will bring a parade down Younge Street. All of these players know that if they were to bring a Stanley Cup to Toronto that they would all have streets and schools named after them. Instantly becoming parts of forever. Legends not only in Toronto but right across Canada. The problem is they just can’t not Leaf it. They had their most successful season ever with 116 points. Yes, this past playoff, they did face the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Ending in another first-round defeat in 7 games. Even Leaf’s hopefuls were saying before the season started that a successful season would only have to include a first-round victory. It’s come to that for the fan base. Win a round.
Goaltending is an Issue
They have had some great free-agent goaltenders in the past with Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. But having to constantly spend on free agents has not worked well for the Leafs. This off-season is no exception as they have gotten weaker in goal when they lost starting goaltender Jack Campbell to the Oilers. New starting goalie Matt Murray was acquired from Ottawa this off-season. Murray, who spent some time in the minors last season, is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh. But his stat lines that would say his best days are behind him. Save percentages that are around the .900 mark will not cut it in today’s NHL. Most starters are around the .930 or better mark. The backup, Ilya Samsonov, also had himself a rough 2021′-22 season. He posted career lows in both goals against average and save percentage. So just that position alone shows that the Leafs may have already regressed from last season.
Was Signing Tavares a Mistake?
Captain John Tavares was the big free agent fish in the summer of 2018. He came to Toronto from the New York Islanders in the hopes of winning a cup for his childhood favorite team. But he has been somewhat of a disappointment. It was a nice story at first but fast forward to today’s NHL. It’s built on speed and lots of it. In the Stanley Cup Finals with Colorado and Tampa, those teams were playing a video game speed. Tavares is not capable of that. With a salary cap hit of $11 million per year for what is realistically a 3rd line center at this stage of his career, Tavares hasn’t delivered much bang for the buck thus far. Factor in the salaries of Marner, Matthews, and Nylander the Leafs are paying half of the salary cap to 4 players. With that, they are hampered with what they can do with roster construction and free agent signings.
Matthews Exit on the Horizon?
Auston Matthews is going to be looking for a new contract after the 2023-‘24 season, as his current deal at $11.6 million expires. With his trophy case being filled this summer and a bright future ahead of him, he’s going to get paid. A lot. And with the recent exodus of Calgary Flames forward, Johnny Gaudreau to be “closer” to home. His former linemate Matthew Tkachuk has signed a deal with the Florida Panthers. The Maple Leafs need to strike while the iron is hot because Matthews might also choose to sign elsewhere. Teams on the West Coast such as the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, and his hometown Phoenix Coyotes would be more than happy to open the vault and make an American superstar the face of their franchise. A new arena with a hometown kid would be an easy way to sell tickets.
Plan the Parade?
So will Toronto see a parade in the spring of 2024 for their beloved Maple Leafs? Will Lord Stanleys Cup be back in Toronto for the first time since 1967? And also the first Stanley Cup championship team in Canada since 1993? The answer is probably not. Could it happen? Maybe, but the chance that there will be a celebration down Front, Spadina, Queen, and Younge Streets ending with a party at Nathan Phillips Square (the same place that the 2019 NBA Champion Raptors held their party) is slim to none. And slim seems to be generous.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter Brent Radlinsky, or on our podcast account, Fourteen Twenty Sports Bar Podcast. Be sure to listen to our podcast on Spreaker at The Fourteen Twenty Sports Bar Podcast (spreaker.com) or wherever it is you get your podcasts. And for more NHL news and note, check out Belly Up Hockey.