Game five between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets was a sight all too familiar for the Toronto hopeful—a devastating defeat during an elimination playoff game.
After completing a miraculous comeback in game four, the buds sealed their own fate by getting blanked during the most important game they will play in 2020. They certainly had their fair share of chances and bad luck, but the fact remains – they haven’t won a playoff series in 16 years and counting.
Some would argue that this season shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The world is in the midst of a pandemic and many things remain far from ordinary. But this team has also failed in four straight postseasons and some kind of change seems imminent.
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The question is, where do Kyle Dubas and co. begin? Is anyone’s jobs safe at this point and do fans still believe?
@kyledubas I believe in you
— gibby (@mrcNary) August 14, 2020
In short, yes. Hitting the panic button during an irregular season would appear to be a rash move, but what if? Dubas has a reputation for being innovative. Despite the divided opinions on the results he’s produced, his brain is most definitely spinning with ideas.
Trading one of their top forwards for a steady defenseman seems to be the glaringly obvious solution. The cap looks to remain flat for at least the next couple of seasons so moving any of the ‘core four’ (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander) isn’t likely unless a player with a similar salary were to come the other way.
With that being said, trading a forward for some kind of defensive help could certainly be in the cards. A player like Andreas Johnsson comes to mind, although his trade value isn’t at its peak following knee surgery.
The left side of the Leafs’ forward corps will be pretty crowded headed into next season with Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev (pending a new contract), Pierre Engvall (provided he doesn’t play fourth-line center), and potentially Nick Robertson. What is saving Johnsson is his reasonable cap hit of $3.4M, but he’s also far from irreplaceable.
Kasperi Kapanen is a popular name often tossed around. Beyond Marner and Nylander, the Leafs are a bit thin on the right side. If Kapanen were to move on, the buds would definitely miss the speed and depth he brings to both the third line and the penalty kill.
The signing of Alexander Barabanov and the potential re-signing of Jason Spezza could help to ease the pain of losing Kapanen. Other fringe roster options like Nic Petan and Denis Malgin will also keep things interesting.
I look forward to seeing what Mikko Lehtonen and Alexander Barabanov can add to the Maple Leafs next season.
— Sergei (@berezin_goal) July 29, 2020
The defense is a different story entirely. To the delight of many fans, both Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie are more than likely moving on. Perhaps a full, healthy season from Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Travis Dermott (who will be an RFA this offseason) will help to naturally improve things.
KHL-standout Mikko Lehtonen adds some intrigue as a slightly-older prospect (26 years old) coming in at entry-level money. Fans can only hope he’ll have more of a lasting impact than Nikita Zaitsev or Igor Ozhiganov ever did.
Given Dubas’ history and the Leafs’ salary cap situation, he is far more likely to orchestrate a trade and that’s if he decides to do anything at all.
This will forever be Kyle Dubas peak. pic.twitter.com/8f52fbKCAD
— Mitch McFerguson (@Fergtronic) August 10, 2020