Time for Maple Leafs to Hit the Panic Button

Maple Leafs Panic

We aren’t even 10% of the way into the 2021-22 season but panic is already setting into Leafs Nation. Seven games in and the Toronto Maple Leafs sit sixth in the Atlantic Division with five points. Five points! This was a team that pundits predicted to take the division. Is it too early for the Maple Leafs to panic

Maple Leafs Hitting The Panic Button

Now, seven games into an 82 game season is a small sample size, and maybe we are overreacting, but the way the Leafs have looked over those seven games is very telling. The ‘Buds rank 29th in goals per game with 1.86 and their power play is a paltry 13.6%. Unacceptable with the offensive weapons they possess. And they also aren’t doing themselves any favours in the goals against department either, as they sit 21st worst in the league with a 3.29GA/GP.

The once high-flying Leafs seem to have their wings clipped. 

Now the Leafs have had to battle injuries early. Ilya Mikheyev is getting surgery on his thumb and will remain out of the lineup for approximately eight weeks. Auston Matthews season was delayed as he recovered from off-season wrist surgery and has only dressed in four games. But in those four games, he hasn’t looked threatening at all, having only scored once. 

Sure, a case can be made that Matthews’ slow scoring start was to be expected, given the nature of his injury. But as we look at the team as a whole, wanting to hit the panic button this early on doesn’t seem to be an overreaction.

Let’s take a quick look back at how we got here.

Kyle Dubas Era

In 2018 Kyle Dubas was promoted to General Manager of the Maple Leafs. His youthfulness and lack of experience at the NHL level put him under the microscope right away in the hockey-crazed market of Toronto. But the fans figured his youth was what Toronto needed. Out were the “old heads” of hockey and in was a young mind with a fresh outlook on the evolving game. Dubas understood Corsi and analytics and was thought to bring a modern approach to team building. 

But the Dubas era has been one failure after another. Yes, he was able to lock up his core of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares, but at what cost? Literally, what cost? Those four players account for nearly half of the Leafs’ entire salary cap at 49.7%

It’s hard to put together a supporting cast that’s deep enough and can complement those guys with such little money left over.

When Dubas assumed the role of general manager, with all those stars, it was like he was being handed the key to the city. Surely, there was no way this Leafs team wouldn’t win a cup. Couldn’t win a cup. So anything less than lifting Lord Stanley would be a failure.

And failure after failure it has been. With Dubas at the helm, it has been two, first-round playoff exits and one qualifying playoff exit. 

No Identity

Following each of those early playoff exits, the Leafs’ brass would go back to the drawing board and try to right the wrongs that prevented them from finding success.

Each off-season they would move out bottom roster role players and replace them with new ones. One year it was adding grit, another year speed, and another year a locker room full of veteran leaders. None of it stuck. Now the Leafs seem to be left without any identity at all.

Except for an identity to let down their fans.

The off-season moves this past summer, or lack thereof, came as a head-scratcher to Leafs fans after Toronto blew a 3-1 series lead against the Montreal Canadiens. 

I’m sure Leafs fans are cringing looking at what former Toronto forward, Zach Hyman, is doing in Edmonton. Especially when they compare his stats next to his supposed replacement, Nick Ritchie, who has already been demoted from the first line to the fourth line.

Recap Of The Last Few Games

In the seven games played thus far, the Leafs’ two wins have come against the only two teams below them in the Atlantic division, the lowly Canadiens and the rebuilding Ottawa Senators.

It’s not like the Leafs’ schedule has been tough either. They have played four games on home ice and three on the road. And four of their games have been against teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs last year. 

The biggest problem is that in their last few games, they haven’t even been in them. They were hanging around with the San Jose Sharks in a 5-3 loss but the Leafs were then booed out of their barn after an embarrassing 7-1 smacking by a Pittsburgh Penguins roster so undermanned that it looked more like an AHL team than an NHL one. To throw salt in the wound, last night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was started off by the man in many Toronto fans’ nightmares, David Aryes, as he blasted the siren over the arena as the teams hit the ice. And the cherry on top was netminder Fredrik Andersen getting the “W” over his former club, making 24 saves on route to the 4-1 win.

Poor Outlook

The Leafs look flat and their stars have fizzled.

Player

Goals

Assists

Points

W. Nylander

2

3

5

J. Tavares

1

2

3

A. Matthews

1

0

1

M. Marner

0

1

1

50% of their salary cap committed to guys who are paid to drive the offence, and they sit 29th in the league for goals scored, is cause for concern.

Leafs fans have let their distaste for this season be shown. They’ve thrown jerseys on the ice and are booing their team off it. #firedubas is beginning to trend on Twitter as fans call for firings to both Dubas and coach, Sheldon Keefe. 

Justification For Maple Leafs Fans’ Panic

Now I’m not an advocate for throwing jersey’s on the ice, but booing and looking for some accountability? That’s warranted. Absolutely. This type of performance is embarrassing and unacceptable. In years past you could put it on the players, and yes, it still is because, after all, they are the ones on the ice having a direct impact. But now, we must look higher.

Dubas haș failed to create an identity for this team and Keefe has failed to motivate his star players. 

Finally, the Eastern Conference is stacked and the Atlantic Division is top-heavy. At the pace the Leafs are going, forget a divisional birth, a wild card birth could become out of reach soon.

This is not an overreaction. The Leafs are flat, they look frustrated, and they need a change. It’s obviously still early to turn the season around but that change needs to happen sooner than later. We all know what Toronto’s stars are capable of, so perhaps now is the time to change who is at the head of this operation.

The Maple Leafs are back in action tomorrow night against the Chicago Blackhawks, which could have some serious implications to it. If the Leafs fall to the winless Hawks Wednesday night, expect the axe to fall.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images


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