Not since 2004 have the Toronto Maple Leafs surpassed the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as their struggles continue after a Game 7 loss to the back-to-back defending champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-1 matchup.
The Leafs had the opportunity to send the Lightning home for the summer on May 12th when they held a 3-2 series lead, but they dropped the ball in a 4-3 loss in overtime on the road. We’ve seen this one before.
In the aftermath of their woeful defeat, emotions and tensions were high amongst the players and fans respectively and they’ll surely stay this way for the remainder of the offseason. In the post-game press conference, star forward Mitchell Marner hesitated to meet the eyes of reporters and camera crews as he fought back tears under the visor of his Maple Leafs hat.
Words were even spoken from Bolts captain Steven Stamkos on the Leafs being “right there”, on the cusp of vanquishing their playoff demons. Emphasis by all Toronto players focuses on this group “having what it takes” and the desire to get over the hump, but we’ve yet to see any legitimate indication of this even after the blockbuster addition of, now their captain, John Tavares back in the summer of 2018.
The Toronto Maple Leafs continue their streak of 1st-Round Stanley Cup Playoffs exits to 18 years.
Everyone is wondering “what went wrong?” with this group, as their offense was simply immaculate all season long with American superstar Auston Matthews leading the way with an NHL-high 60 goals on the year.
Even their supposed biggest weakness at goaltender, Jack Campbell, stood on his head in the seven-game series. The answer, however, is hidden in plain sight.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have dedicated over $40.5 million of their salary cap to just four players on offense. Matthews ($11.6m), Tavares ($11m), Marner ($10.9m), and William Nylander ($7m) alone take up half of the Leafs’ cap space.
There’s simply no viable way for a team to have sustainable depth on all four lines of offense, three pairs of defense, and two goaltenders.
Forget the last 18 years for a moment. You can put together any mass of excuses in the world, but none of them combined can give a worthy explanation as to why Canada’s team has failed to advance beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the last four years with some of the best talents the NHL has ever seen.
The fact of the matter is, so long as Toronto has three forwards on the roster making nearly $11 million, they’ll never reach the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. One line on offense doesn’t win games, regardless of the amount of skill they have.
Take a look at the Edmonton Oilers and what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been through. The only way for the Leafs to “bounce back and regroup” is to remove one of the heads of their $40.5m monster and spread the wealth to afford depth.