They lost to their own Zamboni driver. At home. To an opponent with which they are currently fighting over a playoff spot. On national television.
And on the final day to institute meaningful change for a roster that has signalled time after time how ill-prepared it is for contention, the Toronto Maple Leafs did nothing.
Calle Rosen — a likely AHL asset — does not count as “something”, by the way.
Naturally, arguments in support of Kyle Dubas’ decision to stand pat in the aftermath of Saturday’s historic debacle and force his players to right the ship themselves, exist. I’ve even agreed with them. This lineup doesn’t deserve reinforcements. They made this mess, now it’s time to clean it up.
But that mindset, as rational as it may seem, lacks some pretty necessary context.
Look around you. The Florida Panthers, the only real hurdle standing between the Leafs and the playoffs, have officially become sellers, shipping out Vincent Trocheck to Carolina for no reason other than to reportedly save some money.
Shedding payroll in the midst of a playoff race is quite the bold strategy for a “contender”, I’ll give Dale Tallon that. Let’s see if it pays off.
Florida’s fire sale notwithstanding, it’s also worth noting that most teams situated around the Leafs at the moment have made notable moves of their own, too — either ahead of today’s deadline or in the days leading up to it: the Hurricanes got Trocheck, the Bruins added Ondrej Kase, the Islanders picked up (and hilariously extended) Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Flyers swung for Derek Grant, the Lightning grabbed Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, etc, etc.
Even Buffalo — Buffalo! — made a surprise entrance into the buyers market and spent a fifth-round pick on Wayne Simmonds — possibly because they just saw one of the teams above them lose to the guy who cleans their ice and thought anything is possible.
This isn’t to suggest that Dubas should have made those specific moves listed above — most of them are comically shortsighted. But the swings taken by surrounding Eastern Conference opponents at least communicate a willingness to go for it. To win. To do something.
From Toronto’s perspective, they seem content with sending a message to their flailing group while their cohorts each load up for a grudge match in April.
Spin it any way you like, but that just doesn’t sit right. Not for a team whose captain turns 30 next season and also happens to be due $11 million annually until 2025. This contention window will not stay open forever. Every year should be viewed as your year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, as they stand today, struggle to inspire confidence in even earning a birth to the postseason at all — let alone finally getting through a single round. The Panthers have done more to shore up Toronto’s fortunes in that department recently than the Leafs themselves. And while opting out of the deadline festivities may not waive a white flag on the season, it sure does decrease the likelihood of this team making any meaningful noise.
It’s not as if there were a dearth of options out there, either. The Maple Leafs have (or had, I guess) an abundance of moveable assets at their disposal in the event they ultimately decided to pull the trigger, with trade chips of similar quality being sold off left and right for lofty returns all day. Barclay Goodrow just went for a first-round pick, for crying out loud! You can’t look me in the eye and suggest that a Kasperi Kapanen deal wouldn’t have at least garnered something approaching similar value — with which Dubas could have used to either acquire that elusive blueline addition or simply re-stock the cupboard.
Maybe you keep a Kapanen, though. Maybe you bet that his rollercoaster season — and those of his skill tier — is a byproduct of the dysfunction caused by a midseason coaching change and heightened expectations. Fine. That’s not unreasonable.
The decision to keep Tyson Barrie, on the other hand, exists in a stratosphere of confusion all to itself.
How many times does a player need to demonstrate just how poorly he fits into a team’s overall construction before said team finally pulls the chute? The Leafs even find themselves in a fortunate position amidst these unfortunate circumstances, too. Teams were reportedly interested in Barrie! Offers of high draft picks and a prospect or two were apparently being thrown around in discussions. Parting ways just made sense.
Barrie is a player whose on-ice value — to the Leafs, at least — is pretty much set in stone at this point. He’s an asset the team is all but guaranteed to let walk for nothing in the summer. Moving the right-shot defender out wouldn’t signify “selling”. Rather, it would be parlaying a square peg into a collection of pieces who happen to fit your round hole, all in an attempt to re-tool.
But here the Leafs sit: post-deadline, with more or less the same roster that just lost to a 42-year-old wearing Kasimir Kaskisuo’s old equipment two nights before. If management believes this group to be capable of turning things around and storming into the playoffs, all the power to them. This is a talented team, after all.
They just better be right. Because coming up empty after rolling the dice is a lot easier to stomach than doing nothing and failing all the same.
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