The Toronto Maple Leafs' historic failure to advance past the opening round of the playoffs has become larger than life, spanning 18 years this summer. Toronto is the NHL's largest market by volume, so the collective heartbreak is just that much bigger.
What makes the team's woes so crazy is the fashion in which they have repeatedly lost in the first round. Since 2017, the Leafs have lost four Game 7's. In 2013, they let a three-goal third period lead slip to the Boston Bruins, eventually sustaining 5-4 overtime defeat in a Game 7 for the ages. In 2021, they led the Montreal Canadiens three games to one, and they somehow blew three straight matches, losing the series in seven. The Habs would eventually fall in the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sure, the losses have been bad enough, but the context only makes things worse. GM Kyle Dubas is entering the last year of his contract, and the team's lack of postseason success has to weigh on his job's security.
On one hand, during his tenure the Leafs have been one of the NHL's most dominant teams in the regular season, and it is not like they are being laughed out of the playoffs. They just cannot win a Game 7. The Leafs ranked third in goals-for in '22-23, and despite the popular notion that the team's defense suffered, the Leafs were fifth-best in expected goals-against (xGA) according to TopDownHockey
. The glaring weakness last season was goaltending, and Dubas at least attempted to fix it. Admittedly, I don't know if Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov are the answers, but there is a lot to love about Kyle Dubas' Maple Leafs.
On the other hand, the Maple Leafs have not had postseason success under Dubas and do have areas worthy of criticism. The team's toughness -- or lack thereof -- has been a factor in years past, and Dubas' salary cap situation has been in limbo for the last few seasons. Toronto infamously allocates 48 of its $82.5 million salary cap to five players -- Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Reilly, and Nylander -- leaving less than 32% of the total cap to round out the remaining 17 roster spots.
Also, factor in the fact that Dubas is the only Leafs' GM since 1997 to make it five seasons; ipso facto, GMs who fail to win in the playoffs have a short shelf-life in Toronto.
Entering the final year of his current contract, Kyle Dubas and his job could depend entirely on his team's ability to win a playoff series this spring. As great as it is to boast a top-five regular season team, if they cannot win where it counts Dubas could have a new gig a year from now.
However, if I had to offer my personal prediction on the subject, I would say this: I think the Leafs break their soon-to-be 19-year playoff series drought this season -- and I will go so far as to say they might even win two series -- and Dubas gets inked to a multi-year contract to stay on as Toronto's GM. Just my own, personal hunch on the matter.
WILL THE LEAFS WIN A PLAYOFF SERIES THIS SPRING?
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