It's well documented that I'm a huge Leafs fan. A defender of a team that probably doesn't deserve my unconditional support. The loss to Montreal in the spring really got me, though. That was the best opportunity for Toronto to go deep in the playoffs in well over a decade, and they let it slip through their fingers. My faith is dwindling. I'll probably pull out of it and get excited as we get closer to the regular season but, for now, I wanted to count down my five biggest concerns about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Core Four got paid
Good for Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander for getting paid. No hometown discounts to be found there. However, they not only ate up more salary than is reasonable in a cap world for just four players, they showed everyone else that hometown discounts to play in Toronto aren't a thing. Hyman walked, and he should have, because why would he take less when the heart of the team didn't? They players had every right to get every dollar they could, but that doesn't mean they can get paid and win. It doesn't work like that.
Tavares is on the decline
John Tavares was always going to work his way from being an elite player to an overpaid one. That's what happens when you make $11M a season until you are 34 years old. Tavares is certainly going to be a good player at 34, but he'll be massively overpaid by that point. With a full no movement clause, he might be the bad deal the Leafs have to contend with for years to come. That's not so bad when you have a Cup or two to show for it, which the Leafs so far do not.
Like Zach Hyman this offseason, I'm afraid Morgan Rielly will walk at the end of the 2021-22 season. The guy is due for a huge raise and the Leafs really can't afford to pay him. We've already watched massive talent walk from the Leafs in the last few years for money elsewhere, and I suspect Rielly is next. Why would he take a discount to play somewhere that seemingly can't win, for less money? Would the Leafs trade their #1 defenseman at the deadline? Likely not, because they would want him for a run that would ultimately end in Game 7 of the first round.
Marner is the new Larry Murphy
Old-school fans will remember Larry Murphy. He was a fantastic defenseman who Leafs fans decided was terrible. They took a massive dump on him every time they got the chance, and he was chased out of town. He was chased right to Detroit where he promptly won two Stanley Cups. Marner is currently the guy Leafs fans love to hate. He's had some big playoff struggles and the pressure is mounting. How long before Marner, a threat to score 100 points every season, asks to be traded? They don't grow Marner's on trees, folks. Then again, if you shake up the Core Four, who else goes?
Dubas had a vision for the Leafs and it's not working out at all thus far. He wanted skill and speed above all else, and what he ended up with was a team that had zero grit and got pushed around by bigger, meaner teams. Now he's buying into the need for grit, but it all comes off like someone very smart learning on the job. The problem is, each lesson takes a year to learn, and each passed year is another year burned on Matthews' contract, or the age of the Core Four. This is Dubas' last year to get the Leafs through to the second round. He won't get another shot, and he'd probably agree that he shouldn't.