Mirko Bibic didn’t score a goal against the Florida Panthers, which meant he wound up tied in the series with Auston Matthews.
Edward Rogers and Tony Staffieri didn’t score either — same as captain John Tavares.
Yet those three scoreless but powerful men — more than even Larry Tanenbaum — representing the majority ownership of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment — will determine which direction the failed Maple Leafs will go in after today, after another year of lost opportunity, after more broken hockey hearts and playoff emptiness.
The time has come for change. You can’t wait any longer on this failed plan. The question that Bibic, the CEO of Bell, and Staffieri the CEO of chief rival Rogers and the sporting voice of Rogers, the ubiquitous prodigal son Edward, need to deal with first is the status of club president Brendan Shanahan.
If they choose to maintain Shanahan as president, then he has to present to them some kind of plan which isn’t same old same old: The Leafs lost 3-2 in overtime Friday night, lost the series 4-1 to the Panthers, scored 10 goals in five games in the series. Two in each game. A ridiculous number for a team of this kind of high-end skill.
That’s where Bibic and Staffieri and Rogers, with chairman Tanenbaum involved, have to determine if they bring Shanahan back, and if they do so, they need an explanation from him about how next year will be different than this year or different from previous years. Maple Leaf Sports signs the paycheques handed out to Matthews, Mitch Marner, Tavares, William Nylander, the $40 million Four, who never grabbed this series and took it over.
They had moments just not nearly enough production.
If Shanahan is kept as president, he will then have to present something of a new plan to Bibic, Staffieri and the rest of the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. That involves general manager Kyle Dubas, whose contract expires shortly. That involves the status of head coach Sheldon Keefe, who like his team has had terrific regular season success and a lack of production when it mattered most.
If Dubas is back, he may want Keefe back as coach. But in fairness, you can’t do that now. The Leafs finished the playoffs winning one of five games at home, scoring 14 goals in their final seven games, outplaying the opposition in maybe three, possibly four of the 11 playoff games the Leafs played.
Yes, Toronto was fortunate to come away with a Round 1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. That was something to celebrate. This series took the celebration out of the most ardent of Leaf followers. This was a kick in the gut for the Leafs. Another year to look the possibilities of it all, and wonder what might have been.
The NHL is down to Florida and Carolina in the East. The Panthers finished way behind the Leafs in the season. The Hurricanes got through the first two rounds of the playoffs without three of their best-scoring forwards. One of those teams will play for the Stanley Cup.
In a year in which Boston lost in Round 1, the Rangers were eliminated in Round 1, this was again a playoff season of opportunity lost. Last year, they lost to Tampa, who went to play for the Cup. The year before, they lost to Montreal with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, and the Canadiens went on to play for the Cup.
The Leafs Stanley Cup drought is 56 years in length now, and unless the Edmonton Oilers somehow find a way to win the next two rounds, the Canadian Stanley Cup drought remains.
And it has in each of the past several seasons, the Maple Leafs just weren’t great enough, weren’t big enough, weren’t offensive enough, didn’t change games, or change this series in any way.
You can’t score two goals a night and win in the playoffs. You can’t score two goals a night and be competitive.
You can’t win when all of your great players— with the exception of Morgan Rielly, who was the best Leaf in the playoffs — are just so-so. You just can’t.
Rielly scored what should have been the tying goal Friday night and the call was bungled by the National Hockey League. With a play not stopping, Rielly broke in on goal, beat Marc Staal to the outside, poked a puck in the direction of Sergei Bobrovsky, the Florida goalie, and then poked it past him for a second-period goal that was disallowed.
That significantly altered the momentum of the night.
There was no whistle on the play. The NHL said a whistle should have been called, hence the goal being called off. Then they spent about 10 minutes trying to determine whether it was a goal or not. But if they believe a whistle should have been called and the play should have been called off, then the refs should have that call in about 10 seconds. Not ten minutes.
In explaining why the goal was called off, NHL contradicted itself. That wasn’t why the Leafs lost. It was just part of the difficult circumstance that surrounded this team all playoff season and certainly in defeat in Game 5.
Now decisions to be made. To keep Shanahan or not? To keep Dubas as general manager? To keep Keefe as coach? The off-season for the Maple Leafs begins Saturday. The decisions should come right after that.
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