Now what?: 57 stray thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs

Elliotte Friedman joins Martine Gaillard and Faizal Khamisa to discuss how the Maple Leafs landed on Craig Berube as their new head coach, how they made their decision, who starts for the Oilers in Game 6, J.T. Miller, Connor McDavid, and more.

TORONTO — Oh, we’re not done.

We’re never done.

We’ll scribble about free agency and the draft and the new assistant coach and the late-summer PTO hopeful and all that.

But before we turn our immediate attention to the final teams contending for the Stanley Cup, let’s empty the ol’ Toronto Maple Leafs notebook.

Here are 57 stray observations on the team that was and what might be — one for every year since the parade.

1. The greatest and simplest argument for changing the Maple Leafs’ mix might be watching the second-round action and asking yourself, honestly: How would Toronto fare in this series?

Any of one of the four.

2. Sheldon Keefe would make a fine fit in New Jersey, if he wants the gig. There is zero sense that the Leafs players quit on their coach. And from a spotlight perspective, it’s all downhill from the mecca.

His stock shouldn’t drop — and his career .665 points percentage won’t change — if he elects to take time to decompress and be a dad.

The man is only 43 years old.

Among all active NHL bench bosses, only Spencer Carbery, 42, is younger than Keefe.

3. How concerning is it that Auston Matthews has now sustained multiple head injuries in his career — one in his sophomore season and another after a “weird hit” in Game 4 of the Bruins series?

Sidney Crosby is the posterboy for stuffing head injuries in the rearview and going on to thrive for years afterward. We’ll take it as a positive that Matthews got cleared to play Game 7 and set up a goal, despite looking something less than 100 per cent.

“Everybody’s is different,” Matthews said after recovering from his first concussion in December 2017. “It’s a physical sport. Stuff like that happens, and you’ve got to deal with it.”

4. Matthews has already captured his third Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. He is a finalist for the Ted Lindsay, Selke and Lady Byng trophies … but not the Hart.

At this stage in his career, questions and answers about his individual accolades are about as enjoyable as a root canal.

“That stuff’s nice, but it’s not fulfilling. It’s not what I’m after,” Matthews said. 

“Everybody here is after one goal, and that’s to win. And so, I think all the other stuff is nice, but it’s not something that I’m necessarily chasing or after that makes me feel good.”

Matthews’ peers believe he was one of the top three “most outstanding” players this season — more outstanding than Connor McDavid.

The professional writers, however, deemed McDavid more “valuable to his team” than Matthews.

5. The look on Craig Berube’s face when Paul Bissonnette spills the tea …

6. The morning of Game 7, I asked Ryan Reaves about Jake McCabe: “I was talking about him the other day. He might be my favourite defenceman in the league. He does a little bit of everything. He’s got really good poise with the puck and breaks out well. He plays so physical. Blocks shots. He adds a little offence, too. He’s kind of like a unicorn in the league — just a guy who does everything really well.”

7. Keefe spoke to how much more comfortable McCabe was in 2024, both as an emerging leader on the team and having gotten his first taste of playoff competition in ’23.

“He really feels like a big part of our group now, which he certainly is. And with that, his leadership has really stepped up and his overall confidence has improved,” Keefe said.

McCabe ate tough matchups in both playoffs for the Leafs. In 2023, he was a minus-7. In 2024, he was even.

“He was very open with me, when the playoffs ended last year, how disappointed he was in himself, but also … how surprised he was at how hard the playoffs were compared to the regular season,” Keefe revealed. 

“Despite the fact he’s a veteran guy and he’s played in the league a long time, he found it to be a big jump. So, he vowed to be better the next time around. And having learned from that, he’s certainly delivered.”

8. McCabe will still carry a sweetheart cap hit of $2 million for the Leafs in 2024-25, with 50 per cent retained by Chicago. The 30-year-old is coming off a career campaign by virtually every measure (eight goals, 28 points, plus-20) and appears to be improving with age and responsibility.

Hardly at the top of the to-do list, but does Treliving extend McCabe when that option becomes available July 1?

9. Maple Leafs’ playoff hits per 60 is steadily on the rise.

2020: 19.0

2021: 28.0

2022: 36.4

2023: 40.4

2024: 48.9 

10. Would love to see the game operations at Scotiabank Arena tone down the bells and whistles, the force-fed noise-o-meters and barrage of video engagements. 

Some of the best fan experiences around the league let the moment breathe. They play good tunes and allow fans to sing along. Let the organist riff. They give space for organic chants to emerge from fans who want to cheer.

Every break between whistles doesn’t need to get crammed with an activation.

A few times this season at SBA, especially in the playoffs, a legitimate “Go! Leafs! Go!” chorus or “Sam-my!” serenade would get cut off at the knees by the next programmed pump-up tool, cranked at full blast.

11. Although we’ve probably seen the last of Mark Giordano‘s playing days, he’s an incredible personality and a wealth of knowledge. His perspective would be a much welcome addition to the scouting or development staff if he wants to stay involved in the game.

12. For the second time in four summers, Treliving will let T.J. Brodie walk away from his roster in free agency. Here’s hoping the softspoken defenceman rebounds from an incredibly tough year professionally and personally.

Fun fact: Only one pending UFA, Florida’s Brandon Montour (23:26) averaged more time on ice than Brodie (21:43), who began 2023-24 on the top pair and finished in the press box.

13. Crazy how Brendan Shanahan’s 2024 season-ending comments directly echoed those of Kyle Dubas’s 2023 season-ending comments on two counts: (a) my contract status won’t be a distraction, and (b) maybe the time for patience is over and we should rethink our run-it-back strategy with the core talent.

14. We understand Treliving giving new coach Berube the option to chat with the current assistants before rushing into more firings. 

But with Guy Boucher overseeing a power play that tumbled from second to seventh overall in the regular season, then flunked out with a 1-for-21 post-season, he can’t stay.

The whispers of luring Marc Savard away from Calgary are getting louder. 

Note: The Flames’ power play fell from 19th in 2022-23 to 26th (17.9 per cent) under Savard this past season.

15. Mike Van Ryn may well be a different story, particularly with his 2019 Cup-winning bond to Berube in St. Louis.

16. We’d love to see Berube start the season with two balanced power-play units to up the urgency and internal competition. An easy reset and attention-getter.

A quick glance at the power plays operating in the second round make the Maple Leafs’ 5-on-4 unit look stale and stagnant by comparison.

17. Any notion of hosting playoff games in Toronto serving an advantage for this group is dead.

Heck, even the Bruins stayed in a Boston hotel prior to beating the Leafs in Game 7.

Keefe on home ice: “Quite honestly, it means nothing.”

18. As Joseph Woll readjusts his off-season training, Treliving must secure a quality partner to share the workload. 

Juuse Saros, Jacob Markstrom and Linus Ullmark are a few trade options available but would require surrendering a substantial asset.

UFAs Laurent Brossoit, Anthony Stolarz, Alex Nedeljkovic and Scott Wedgewood would only cost money — but none of them appeared in so many as 30 games.

19. Stellar when healthy, Woll appeared in a grand total of 29 games in 2023-24. That’s including his AHL start and his playoff appearances.

True, Woll’s .964 is still the best save percentage among all goalies who have started a playoff game this spring.

But he turned pro in 2019-20 and has never topped 32 appearances. The best ability is availability.

Rooting for Woll to figure out a way to manage the wear and tear.

20. I will miss Ilya Samsonov‘s personality and enthusiasm. Healthy sense of humour for a guy forced to address the fan base in his second language.

Among all UFA goalies under the age of 35, Samsonov is the only one with more than 18 wins. (He had 23.)

Here’s hoping he and his family get some term on his next contract; financial security could benefit his mental game.

21. The nerds don’t track this stat, but I’m convinced Samsonov leads the NHL in dropped goal sticks per 60. We counted four fumbles in Game 7 alone.

22. Brad Marchand on the Maple Leafs: “They’ve really tightened up their D-zone.”

23. Great to see radio icons Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph back on the road calling games in-person. Word is, Treliving had a major hand in making that happen.

24. An interesting and underdiscussed caveat when Shanahan was explaining his newfound openness to tweaking his core: “It might not look it on the first day of camp. It might be at the trade deadline …”

25. As Jake Muzzin, John Klingberg and Matt Murray’s contracts all expire, the Maple Leafs won’t need to lean into long-term injured reserve for the first time in a long time.

Keep it that way, and capologist Brandon Pridham can accrue valuable cap space in-season that should come in handy by the deadline.

26. With at least 64 NHL goaltending jobs available, why wouldn’t some team take a one-year flyer on Murray as its second- or third-stringer? He’s only 29.

27. We’d love to know much of an impact Max Domi‘s late-season emergence as facilitator for Matthews’ shot had on the organization’s willingness to entertain a Marner trade.

28. The Leafs amassed 115 points in 2021-22, 111 in 2022-23, and 102 in 2023-24.

As the top half of the Atlantic Division remains in go-for-it mode, and the bottom half (Ottawa, Montreal, Detroit and Buffalo) is through bottoming out and now fancies itself as a group of teams on the rise, can Toronto be certain another 100-point campaign and top-three finish awaits in 2024-25?

29. Marner’s agent, Darren Ferris, will have his hands full with the more immediate business of finalizing Sam Reinhart’s next deal. He’s the best player set to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1.

30. The more I think about it, the more difficult it is to see John Tavares not playing out the final season of his seven-year, $77 million homecoming.

31. Much like a head coaching change, a captaincy change would be largely symbolic. Window dressing that will distract from anything but a fresh mix of the roster and a more balanced allotment of cap space across the lines and the positions.

32. Even if the Leafs and Domi can come to an agreement on a reasonable extension, Toronto needs another pure middle-six centre. 

Offensively anemic David Kämpf serves best as a 4C. And while we have strong hopes down the road for Fraser Minten, who turns 20 in July, we’re not certain the prospect is ready for 82 NHL games as a 3C just yet.

33. OHL MVP and Memorial Cup–bound Easton Cowan, 18, is speeding toward that finnicky spot in a young stud’s career: Too good to learn much more in junior but not old enough to be eligible for the American Hockey League.

Let’s give him the first nine games of 2024-25 in a Maple Leafs sweater and take it from there.

34. Morgan Rielly, the longest-tenured Leaf, will be entering his 12th season.

He’s running out of we’ll-get-’em-next-years.

“It’s always difficult. I feel this year maybe more than ever,” Rielly, now 30, said on locker cleanout day.

“I think partly because of Game 7, overtime. Partly being on the ice for the goal. Partly age. Just, I think, every year gets more challenging, honestly.”

Rielly finds it difficult to replay David Pastrnak’s series-ending goal and wonder what he could’ve done to prevent it.

[brightcove videoID=6352341432112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

35. William Nylander’s perspective on Boston’s set play that snuffed out Toronto’s hopes:

“It happened fast. I didn’t even think I had time to really think out there. And then the puck bounced off the wall, and then you realize it was gonna be a dangerous chance. So, it was a tough goal. I mean, it was like a play that some teams do during the season. And I haven’t seen that in playoffs. And they scored on it, so …”

36. Barring a waived no-move clause and a blockbuster trade, the Maple Leafs will dress four of the top 12 cap hits on Opening Night. All forwards.

37. Last time the Leafs wanted a new head coach, they simply promoted Keefe and called it a day.

At least Treliving conducted multiple interviews (Berube, Todd McLellan, Gerard Gallant, who else?) before making such an important commitment.

38. How suspicious would it look had the NHL just happened to reinstate the banished (and eager) Joel Quenneville during the same off-season the Leafs were hunting for a proven head coach?

39. A great failure of this Leafs era has been the inability to develop a homegrown defenceman who can skate in the top four. Can 22-year-old prospect Topi Niemela take a giant step? Will rugged Cade Webber turn into an NHLer? 

And at what point does RFA Timothy Liljegren lose the benefit of the doubt and end up like the once-hopeful Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott before him — discarded in a change-of-scenery trade?

40. Something positive: Matthew Knies, Simon Benoit, and Bobby McMann are all under contract at reasonable cap numbers, all young and all showed considerable improvement as the season wore on. Further, they all wield the proper attitude to thrive in a hot market.

Knies had a couple coming-of-age moments in the Boston series that should carry his confidence through the summer and into Year 2.

41. Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson ($11.6 million AAV) admits he was motivated to edge out countryman Nylander ($11.5 million) — and Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million) for that matter — on his in-season contract extension, becoming the priciest Swede in the biz.

42. Curious to see if Nick Robertson has a top-nine roster spot in Toronto this fall.

If that’s not the plan, Treliving should find him one elsewhere. He doesn’t fit as a fourth-liner, but proved this season he does hold NHL value.

43. At various points in the season, the organization sheltered struggling players from the media. If the Leafs are serious about establishing a culture of accountability, that includes answering questions at tough times.

44. Over seven playoff games, Toronto got a grand total of one goal and seven assists from its blueline.

The Leafs defence simply doesn’t drive enough offence.

Treliving attempted to address this deficiency by signing Klingberg over the summer, but when he underwent season-ending surgery, he was never replaced.

Tricky deal to pull off, but I can’t help but think Seth Jones could help in this department.

45. Treliving’s decision to not spend his 2024 first-round pick in-season and make a deadline splash received mixed reviews.

Let’s see if he’s more willing to part with that pick at the draft.

For whomever he selects late in Round 1 will be a long shot to be a significant NHL contributor during the Matthews-Nylander prime.

46. Eight pending UFA defencemen the Leafs should kick tires on: Brandon Montour, Chris Tanev, Brett Pesce, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Roy, Nikita Zadorov, Jalen Chatfield, Alexandre Carrier.

The high end of the class won’t blow you away, but the field is deeper than initially thought.

47. How did Justin Brazeau slip through the cracks?

48. Loved this line from a devastated Samsonov, minutes after Game 7: “I don’t want to say lucky or not lucky. That’s for losers.”

49. Whatever house-cleaning awaits, the Leafs should keep video coaches Jordan Bean and Sam Kim. Heck, give ’em a raise. Their successful challenge rate is off the charts.

50. We can’t recall so many NHL head coaches successfully negotiating contract extensions in a single season only to be fired before coaching one day on their next deals.

Keefe joined McLellan, Lindy Ruff, Don Granato and Dave Hakstol in this category.

Good for the men collecting severance cheques, but from the GM’s point of view, what’s the point of removing “lame duck” status when the coach is still a lame duck?

Meanwhile in Carolina, Rod Brind’Amour routinely runs out contract seasons without a sniff of security.

51. In a good interview with J.D. Bunkis, former Bruins coach Claude Julien agreed that the Bruins brandish a mental edge over Toronto, who hasn’t defeated its Original Six rival in a playoff series since Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue ruled the pop charts.

“At the end of the day, Boston knows how many series they’ve won against them,” Julien said. “And at the other end, it’s the other way around.”

52. Boston fans are as lewd and crude as they are loud and proud.

“F—! The! Leafs!” chants rang out at TD Garden.

And as exiting locals spotted Toronto media waiting to enter the visitors’ dressing room, they shouted plenty of X-rated chirps about some of the Leafs stars.

Respect the passion. But earmuffs, kids.

53. Matthew Tkachuk accidentally on purpose trolling the Leafs after Round 1 should be bulletin-board material. 

“Without this coming out too badly, I think we all knew it was probably going to be Boston the way that series was going. I’m sure a lot of people were expecting it at the beginning of the series, but playoffs I guess you never know,” Tkachuk said. 

“I think throughout the whole series we were probably expecting they were going to come out and win it one way or another.”

[brightcove videoID=6352371713112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

ICYMI, Paul Maurice defending Mitch Marner’s role in Toronto’s season-ending goal is worth a watch:

54. MLSE dropping a press release about refurbishing Scotiabank Arena’s 100 level to make it more luxurious while the Leafs coach twisted in the wind and two of the guys who wear letters were getting run out of town was a bit … rich.

55. “When teams play the Leafs, they set up the game for the Leafs to beat themselves.”

That Keefe line, on the night it all fell apart, was intended as a comment on the patience of the Bruins, how they clogged the neutral zone and were content to protect their net, patiently waiting for the counterattack. For the Leafs to make a mistake.

It also reminded this observer of how many playoff series, whether Toronto entered the favourite or not, have been waged on the opposition’s terms.

The Leafs are forever trying to solve their opponent instead of imposing their identity on the series.

56. My jaw dropped on the Bruins press conference room floor when I walked in just in time to hear Jim Montgomery reveal that he’d received advice from a former Leafs coach during the series.

“I had a real good discussion with Mike Babcock before Game 6 about owning the moment and how to push your team through,” Montgomery said.

Wow. Salt meet wound.

57. Hey! There’s always next year.

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.