The Toronto Maple Leafs blew yet another season. Even though the downward spiral started in December, we all saw it coming at the start of the season. Leafs fans are growing increasingly frustrated (as we saw throughout the season), and can you blame them? Whether it was fans throwing their jerseys on the ice during a game, a decrease in ticket sales, or the constant negative critique of coaching officials, Leafs supporters are unimpressed. The team’s motto every season is “this year will be different.” However, it’s the same song and dance year after year, with the exception of the 2013 playoffs where the Leafs lost in game 7 against the Boston Bruins in the first round. The whole city of Toronto was supportive, excited, and for the most part completely shocked that the Leafs had persevered to push the series to game 7.
Randy Carlyle, head coach of the Leafs to begin the season, was fired in January 2015. This sparked conversation that changes would continue to be made in order for the team to perform. Out with the old, in with the new. Unfortunately, after firing Carlyle, the Leafs entered their longest franchise-losing streak. There was an incredible amount of hype surrounding the Leafs prior to the trade deadline. Will they finally re-build? Make some ground breaking trades? The Leafs were predicted to dominate trades, and as per usual, they delivered nothing short of disappointment. Rumors fluttered around getting rid of big names such as Kessel and Phaneuf. However, come deadline day, the Leafs did not pull the trigger. With Dion Phaneuf signing a seven year, $49 million contract extension in December 2013, the Leafs are struggling to create salary cap room for their rebuild. Since the season is now mercifully over for Toronto, it’s time for some serious spring-cleaning. The following are what the Leafs must do in order to fulfill the repetitive idea that “next year will be different."
10 Eliminate Negative Members of the Organization
This is a solid spring-cleaning start for the Leafs. Members who are not making the right choices with the team’s best interest in mind need to be let go. Shanahan has already fired Horachek, the Leafs Interim head coach, and Nonis, Toronto’s General Manager. Since Toronto is trying to successfully rebuild the team, this requires determined and dedicated individuals to be in the right roles and positions off and one the ice. Although this may require trades, firing, and finding new candidates for a variety of roles in the organization, Brendan Shanahan is driven to ensure the Leafs perform this coming season.
9 Make the Players Understand Effort Isn’t an Option
Fans complained that many players on the Leafs looked like they completely gave up. This includes insufficient effort being put forth in games, failing to work hard at practice, and ignoring off ice training. Toronto fans deserve to watch a team who has a passion for the game, a drive to improve, and the determination to win. Instead, Leaf Nation watched a team who seemed as though they didn’t care if they scored, won, or lost. Brendan Shanahan acknowledges that leadership as a team was missing during the 2014-15 season, and this will change.
8 Trade Kessel for a Committed Forward
During the offseason, the Leafs should look to trade Kessel. Kessel is known for his bad attitude on and off the ice. He lacks leadership capabilities and his negative perspective is rubbing off on the rest of the team. Kessel ranks in the top ten highest paid forwards in the NHL. Even though Kessel is making the big bucks, he’s not delivering. He’s not dedicated to the team, which shows in his lack of conditioning during the off-season. He is known to be a coach’s worst nightmare, and unable to take any type of constructive criticism. The Leafs need a power forward that can deliver and bring leadership.
7 Let Bozak Go
Tyler Bozak is not in the dark when it comes to his name being put in trade conversations. The Leafs number one line did not perform this past season. The Leafs first line received a lot of grief surrounding the fall of the Leafs season. Bozak has expressed his interest in staying with Toronto, however it may be a little too late for the 29-year-old centerman. He is not the strong centerman that Toronto needs, and has needed for years now.
6 Be Strategic During the NHL Entry Draft
To no surprise, every team in the league had their eyes on the prize, for the 2015 entry draft, which was Connor McDavid. With the Oilers sweeping in and winning the first overall draft pick, McDavid is now out of reach for the Leafs. The Leafs need a strong defenseman and a powerful centre. Rumours are circulating that Toronto will be happy with either Erie Otters centre, Dylan Strome, or Boston College defense, Noah Hanifin. Both players bring various benefits to the ice, it’s just a matter of who is left by the time the Leafs make their pick.
5 Ship Phaneuf Off
For Toronto, it’s not a small matter of a minor rebuild. They essentially need an overhaul to start fresh. Dion Phaneuf has lacked leadership, which has been evident on and off the ice. Phaneuf plays the most minutes on the team, however is not a high caliber skater. A couple of teams showed interest in acquiring the 30-year-old defenseman around the trade deadline. However, the Leafs held on, as the offers did not meet their exact needs. Toronto believed there would be a stronger offer made for Phaneuf during the off-season and if it comes, they need to move him.
4 Tune up the Goaltending
Both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have had their ups and downs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bernier admits that it’s his job to keep the puck out of the net and he hasn’t been doing that well. Both Bernier and Reimer have experienced being pulled multiple times to try and ignite some motivation in the rest of the team to perform better, however it seems as though this method has been unsuccessful. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort to keep the puck out of the net and should not be solely blamed on the goaltending alone. Bernier has been known for his strong leadership skills, which the Leafs desperately need. Horachek expressed interest in keeping Bernier around, however with him no longer being a part of the organization, the goaltending future for Bernier is uncertain.
3 Choose a Reputable GM
Brendan Shanahan has yet to name the new General Manager of the Leafs. There are however top candidates that have been mentioned. These candidates include Doug Wilson from San Jose, Paul Fenton whose known for excellent talent recognition in Nashville, and Sean Burke from Arizona, along with a wildcard in Peter Chiarelli who was just let go in Boston. Shanahan has been clear in stating that the new GM will not choose their staff. Everything will be laid out for them, which is a situation not all GMs will be comfortable with.
2 Find a Determined Coach
There are three names floating around as to who will be next to coach the Leafs. Claude Julien, who has not been fired yet, Todd McLellan, who has just been let go, and Mike Babcock. However, acquiring Babcock is highly unlikely for Toronto. Since Toronto is entering a rebuild, it’s important to look at the coach’s previous experience and capabilities. Neither Julien nor McLellan are rebuild coaches, therefore this could trigger further dysfunction for the Leafs organization.
1 Keep Calm and Carry on With the Shana-plan
The Shana-plan is the slow rebuild that Shanahan has begun to execute. Brendan Shanahan is making strategic and intelligent choices to provide a fresh start that the Leafs have needed for some time now. Shanahan recognizes that Toronto and Leafs fans deserve a team that makes the playoffs consistently. He is looking to form a team that Toronto is proud of and supports. Shanahan has encouraged patience as they continue to try to make the best decisions to promote success for the organization in the future.