Expect Maple Leafs to stick to the ‘Shanaplan’ this summer

Tim and Sid look at the Maple Leafs’ Game 7 loss to the Bruins and try to find where the blame should lie- and it’s not entirely with Jake Gardiner.

Taylor Hall.

Those are the only two words you have to say when the question of whether the Toronto Maple Leafs should consider trading one of Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner or William Nylander this off-season comes up.

Taylor Hall.

Even after six seasons in Edmonton, it’s pretty clear the Oilers didn’t exactly comprehend the full capabilities of Hall when he was traded to New Jersey two seasons ago. If they’d known he’d reach Hart Trophy status, they’d have never dealt him. Or at least Peter Chiarelli would have demanded more.

That’s not to say no team should ever consider trading a young player. But you better know what you’re trading, and with the Leafs, they’ve just started scratching the surface on the abilities of Matthews, Marner and Nylander, not to mention other youngsters like Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott.

Update your Fantasy Hockey Pool roster before Round 3 for your chance to win the ultimate grand prize: an all-new 2019 RAM 1500 & $25,000 cash!

This is not the time to start moving those pieces to shore up other parts of the team, because if you do, you run the risk of giving up far too much for what you think you need.

Again, this isn’t an all-encompassing rule. If Tampa comes along offering Victor Hedman, or Jarmo Kekalainen calls from Columbus wondering if you’d have any interest in Seth Jones or Zachary Werenski, or if there’s an urgent call from Philadelphia expressing an intent to make Ivan Provorov a Leaf, by all means, you’d have to listen and listen hard.

Only Matthews is untouchable, and even then, if Jason Botterill loses his mind and puts together a ridiculous package of Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O’Reilly and offers to take Matt Martin’s contract, it would be worth a conversation.

But none of those offers are coming. Those teams are trying to build winners, too. Just as Edmonton obviously didn’t know that Hall was worth far more than Adam Larsson in a trade, so too do the Leafs not yet fully understand the potential and capabilities of Marner or Nylander, in particular.

So despite the disappointment of the Game 7 loss to Boston on Wednesday night, don’t expect anything quite that dramatic out of the Leafs this off-season.

They’re sticking with the Shanaplan.

It won’t necessarily be easy to do that. Expectations are much higher now than they were a year ago. The Leafs have glaring defensive weaknesses, and the easy answer is to go get a strapping veteran defencemen, right? Like forwards have nothing to do with keeping the puck out of their own net. Like perhaps somebody needed to be out there trying to block Torey Krug’s 60-footer early in the third period Wednesday night before Frederik Andersen had the chance to whiff on it.

At least half the Leaf roster still has a lot to learn about defending, which means they can get better. So there’s lots of room for improvement within, and the Leafs will have to evaluate which players can make those improvements, and which can’t.

Almost certainly, the threesome of Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov are heading out the doors as free agents. Probably Tomas Plekanec will join them. That will open up more opportunities higher in the lineup for Brown, Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, and possibly a shift to centre for Nylander. Again, until you know whether he’d be more effective at his natural centre position, you’d be foolish to move him simply because he vanished against the Bruins and you need help elsewhere.

In general, the Leafs are not yet past the point where they need to emphasize patience above all else, and that even applies to a player like Jake Gardiner. Gardiner’s become the easy target for his awful outing in Game 7, but you can’t assess a player’s value on one game.

Gardiner just had his best NHL season. He led all Leaf defencemen in ice time during the regular season, and again in the playoffs. He improved significantly this season, and could improve again next year.

You might like him to be Larry Robinson. But based on how he’s been used, you can hardly make the case that he’s the team’s worst defenceman, or why would Mike Babcock use him more than any other Toronto backliner? For laughs? Because Babcock wouldn’t know a good NHL defenceman from a scrub?

The difference with Gardiner and the younger Leafs, of course, is that he will be 28 when next season begins, and thus much closer to being a finished product. If you were move him in a trade, you would at least have a pretty good idea what you were sacrificing.

But you’d still have to find a defenceman to play all those minutes, either in that deal, or if you believe Dermott, for example, is ready to step forward. But you don’t. And you don’t know whether last year’s top pick, Timothy Liljegren, is going to be an NHLer in the near future, either.

Livestream every single game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs—blackout free—plus the Toronto Blue Jays, key Raptors & NBA Playoffs matchups and the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup, all in one subscription.

Layered on top of all this, of course, are the contractual issues. Nylander needs a new contract this summer. How much? What term? And how to design a contract with enough flexibility to allow you to move him sometime in the future with a much higher salary attached?

They could sign Matthews and Marner to extensions this summer. It’s easier to see the path to creating enough cap room, with the above-mentioned veterans about to depart and generate much-needed payroll space. Until the future of general manager Lou Lamoriello is finalized, that is also a variable in the Leaf equation.

Leafs fans frustrated by the team’s third period collapse on Wednesday, and all these years of getting nowhere, will be hoping for big moves this summer. They’ll point to the extraordinary success of the Vegas Golden Knights as evidence this can all be done much more quickly than they’ve previously been told, and Lord knows, that refrain is being heard in many NHL cities these days. There are 23 NHL teams watching while the Knights play on, which means there are also 23 NHL ownership groups wondering how exactly that happened.

For the Leafs, however, you can’t let that throw you off course. They are well positioned for a long, sustained period of being in the Stanley Cup playoffs year after year, which will likely mean they’ll get at least one serious shot at the Holy Grail, if not more.

For a golfer who has gone from shooting 100 to shooting 85, the job of lopping another five strokes off is a great deal more difficult. For the Leafs, getting from 30th to here was more achievable than getting from here to lifting the Cup.

Panicking now, and moving good young players before their potential is known, is more likely to make that process more difficult than easier.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.