After their Round 2 loss, the Toronto Maple Leafs face several pressing issues about the team’s future. These include the contract status of general manager Kyle Dubas, the question of whether they have the right head coach, the performance of the core players, and the overall identity of the team.
On one hand, the low-hanging fruit of these issues could be “solved” by dumping Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe. He’s the easiest one to dump, and it would be a simple amputation. There would be no salary cap implications or contractual complexities to navigate.
Keefe is still owed a season of his contract, but MLSE (Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment) is used to paying for coaches it no longer employs. If I am correct, Mike Babcock remains – at least for a couple more months – on the team’s payroll.
Related: What 3 Steps Should the Maple Leafs Take Next to Fix The Team?
Issue One: Should Keefe Be Dumped?
The question of whether Keefe should be brought back for another season seems to be a prime topic of conversation. If he’s not retained, who would be the best replacement?
When Keefe arrived on the scene in 2019, he brought initial optimism with him to the team. That said, subsequent playoff disappointments and Keefe’s struggles to elevate his team in crucial postseason games have eroded fan confidence. He is now generally critiqued and his coaching abilities are questioned.
Again, the question of who should be the team’s next head coach if Keefe is let go becomes a big one. It would seem important to find a coach who could maximize the team’s potential and perform well in playoff situations. Keefe has been successful. Could someone be MORE successful?
What Critics Didn’t Like about Keefe
Keefe’s coaching decisions during the playoffs have sparked criticism from fans. There have been instances where his stubbornness in sticking with certain line combinations seemed to hinder the team’s performance. To answer the question about retaining Keefe as the coach, as they are moving forward, the organization must evaluate whether Keefe can adapt and make necessary adjustments during those critical moments of the game.
While there might be several coaching alternatives, finding a better replacement for Keefe could be a challenge.
Issue Two: Should Kyle Dubas Be Dumped?
Another key decision on the horizon is the future of current Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas. He currently is without a contract for next season, and the organization must consider how he’s done his job during his tenure.
Has Dubas made the right moves to make the team competitive? This postseason, Dubas made the necessary changes to beat Atlantic Division rival the Tampa Bay Lightning, but that lineup didn’t do well enough against their Round 2 opponent the Florida Panthers.
Is the fact that his players didn’t perform up to the standards expected to be placed on Dubas’ shoulders? He did seem to bring in solid additions, including players like Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn, who showed their value despite the team’s rough moments. So if the players don’t perform, is it the GM’s fault?
Re-signing Dubas might provide stability, given his understanding of the team’s needs and long-term vision. However, if he’s seen to be the problem, he shouldn’t be retained. But then, what’s next?
Related: Maple Leafs Risk Losing Matthews if They Let Dubas Depart
Issue Three: What Roster Players Should Be Dumped?
We know already that the team will face assessments and potential changes. That makes the third issue the team faces a question of a thorough evaluation of the entire roster. That seems imperative, especially when the core of this roster keeps coming up short in the postseason.
Certainly, the team’s core players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner showed more success this postseason than during previous postseasons. Still, they struggled to elevate their games when it counted. Their continuing struggles raise concerns.
Marner, in particular, is yet again receiving criticism for his performance during the second round of the playoffs. He seemed to make uncharacteristic mistakes and appeared more passive at times than fans are used to.
Can these players lead the team on a lost postseason run? Should these players have another chance to carry the team? Or, should the team explore the possibility of a significant trade? Moving any of these big contracts will likely prove challenging, but should this be done even for what seems to be a loss in talent?
Does that also mean that William Nylander’s more team-friendly contract becomes the most movable option? Does the team do something just for the sake of doing it?
Issue Four: What Additional Considerations Must Be Made?
Aside from evaluating those in key leadership positions – such as Dubas and Keefe, the Maple Leafs must also carefully examine their supporting cast of players.
Alexander Kerfoot seems replaceable. That makes him the most simple candidate to leave. It would also seem that defenseman Justin Holl will leave as well. However, several players came to the team at the trade deadline. Who might stay from this group?
Does the team wish to retain Ryan O’Reilly? He seems like a keeper. What about Noel Acciari or Sam Lafferty? David Kampf is on an expiring contract as well. And, a reshaping of the team’s defence seems to be in order.
The Bottom Line
In short, the Maple Leafs face several critical off-season decisions. These include coaching, team management, and roster reconstruction.
What will the pressure be on star players like Matthews and Marner? Will it intensify? What significant improvements can be made with the roster given the squeeze of a tight salary cap? If Dubas is gone, who will make the key decisions?
The bottom line is that the team must balance the success it has had with its ultimate goal of the Stanley Cup. The key to progressing further is creating playoff success.
In this Toronto market, the only measure of success is winning the Stanley Cup. If this postseason did nothing else, it emphasized that that is the only measure of success that the fanbase will be satisfied with. Contending season after season is not enough.
Related: The Frustrations of Maple Leafs’ Fans: What Do They Say?