On the morning after their latest implosion, knives were wielded in Maple Leafs Land. Their followers blamed anybody and everybody for Monday’s flop against – Oh please, no – the Montreal Canadiens.
It is not just that they blew a 3-1 series lead to what appeared to be a vastly inferior opponent. It is that they had that same hangdog look afterward that they do every year – and pretty much said the same thing: “We just didn’t get it done.”
If you listen to the frustrated fans online, the ones who claim they won’t ever buy another ticket or sweater or, God forbid, a Mitch Marner jersey – but in a few months surely will – it is Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas’s fault. It is time to trade Marner or give him and William Nylander away to the expansion Seattle Kraken. (Nylander was easily Toronto’s best player against Montreal, but still …)
Injuries or referees are to blame. So is Justin Trudeau. Why did that troublemaker Lord Stanley ever create that damn trophy to begin with? Isn’t it time the Maple Leafs learn how to fore-check? And where was Wayne Simmonds while his razor-edged counterpart on the Canadiens, Corey Perry, created all that havoc?
“It is a colossal embarrassment of epic proportions,” one seething Toronto supporter wrote.
Despite suggestions, it remains unlikely that the team will be banished to Hamilton and that Toronto will get another franchise. Or that millionaire players will return half of their salaries to prove they have learned a lesson.
They posted photos on Twitter of train wrecks. Of a wagon train supposedly during the Maple Leafs’ last Stanley Cup parade. Of Bart Simpson scribbling on a blackboard: “I will not let the Maple Leafs ruin my life.”
Of course, not everyone woke up cranky.
“What happened last night is the only compelling evidence I’ve seen for the existence of God,” one Montreal fan said. “It’s rare that justice is so perfectly served. If you’re up there, thanks a lot big guy.”
The Canadiens begin the second round in Winnipeg on Wednesday night. That is something that a Toronto team has not experienced since 2004.
There is much to mull after an abysmal performance in Game 7. Toronto’s players saved their worst for last. They never got untracked. They seemed to lack the emotional investment that was apparent on the other side. It was as if they knew that at any moment an anvil would land on their heads.
The only guy that showed any heart during postgame interviews was Jack Campbell. Bit off words and fought off tears.
He accepted the blame for allowing a bad first goal. He was accountable, even when he needn’t be. Combined, Auston Matthews and the jittery Marner scored once in seven games on 54 shots. Marner had the same number of goals – none – as John Tavares. But the Maple Leafs captain was injured and didn’t play in the final six contests.
The rub here is that this was a team that was built to win this year. Moves were executed along those lines. Veterans were added to the dressing room. A friendly division, without the Bruins and Lightning – was set up for this year that made things much easier. Still, bupkis.
Toronto is not alone in this, actually. It is somewhat ironic that Edmonton finds itself finished after the first round, too. The Maple Leafs and Oilers finished one-two. Fairly well everyone else was an afterthought.
The Maple Leafs players had the day off on Tuesday, their first of many. A postmortem with journalists is scheduled for Wednesday.
The truth is that fans actually take it more personally than they do. It is a professional sport. To win isn’t easy. For some organizations it is much more difficult than others. The Maple Leafs just surpassed the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup futility record. Until Monday, the Rangers held it, once having gone 54 consecutive years between championships.
Perhaps it is time for Toronto to trade one or more of the core players. Maybe Marner. If that happens, the club would probably have to eat a sizable amount of salary. Perhaps it is time to thank Joe Thornton for his efforts and send him on his way. The same with Simmonds. On the ice, neither left much of a mark this year. Bring back Jason Spezza because he clearly cares.
Another chapter has been written in the Maple Leafs history book. It reads a lot like the year before. And the year before that.
But it is not time to blow the team up or burn a Matthews sweater. That will just cost another $200 to replace.