Brendan Shanahan quickly got rid of his housekeeping.
Following another playoff failure, the Toronto Maple Leafs president told reporters during the team’s annual post-elimination media availability – again much earlier in the schedule than anyone associated with to the organization hoped – that general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe would keep their jobs.
“Extremely disappointed,” Shanahan said in his opening remarks on Tuesday. “We are not going to make excuses.
“That being said, we won’t be making changes just to say we’ve made changes.”
There’s no doubt the Leafs played better in their 2022 first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning than in previous playoffs that also ended in heartbreak.
The bar was also low.
Toronto had the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions on the ropes with two shots to qualify this spring. Unlike last May’s collapse against the Montreal Canadiens or back-to-back losses to the Boston Bruins in 2018 and 2019, the moment didn’t seem too great for a group, fairly or unfairly, bearing the burden of past losses. .
But in the end, the result was the same in Game 7 for an Original Six franchise that hasn’t advanced to the playoffs since 2004 – now the longest active streak in the NHL – or lifted the Stanley Cup in 55 years.
“Proud of the progress that has been made,” said Dubas. “However, we were unable to achieve the key milestone.”
“I saw a different team and a different approach,” Shanahan added. “For the past two seasons, when we had the opportunity to eliminate a team, we came back on our heels.
“One of the things I liked about the process this year, despite the outcome, is that our team was on their toes.”
And while Shanahan has been clear about his general manager and coach, Dubas has left the door open to changing the roster, even if some of that will be necessitated by salary cap constraints.
“I believe in the group,” said Dubas, whose team set franchise highs for points (115) and wins (54) in 2021-22. “The easiest thing to do would be to make bold statements or bold changes.
“But he continues to hold that belief at this time which is vitally important.”
The Leafs core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly have been among the team’s opening series losses over the past six seasons, while captain John Tavares has seen four outings premature since joining the hometown club via agency in 2018.
“It really stinks…we’re disappointed,” Tavares said. “Conviction is strong in the group.
“We’re going to keep doing everything we can to finally get to where we want to get to.”
Shanahan was once the missing piece as a player on a Detroit Red Wings team that finally achieved its ultimate goal in the 1990s – the club sent Paul Coffey and Keith Primeau the other way to the Hartford Whalers in a successful trade – but said the road to fame doesn’t necessarily require addition by subtraction.
“There are lots of different ways to win a Cup,” he said. “And we have to find our way.”
Matthews and Nylander have two more seasons left on their contracts, while Marner and Tavares are signed until 2024-25.
The situation with Matthews is one to watch closely. Toronto’s first chance to sign the NHL’s first 60-goal man in more than a decade for a contract extension will be July 1, 2023. There’s no indication Matthews is unhappy or looking elsewhere, but time keeps on ticking. turn.
“We would love to make him a foil forever,” Shanahan said. “He’s been fantastic for us.”
According to capfriendly.com, Toronto currently has just over $74.65 million committed to 17 players next season. That leaves Dubas and Co. just under $7.85 million to split between four or five other spots on the roster, with the cap set at just $1 million to $82.5 million as the league continues to emerge from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the financial gymnastics the Leafs have pulled off over the past few seasons, there’s simply no way to bring back the same group with players like goaltender Jack Campbell, defensemen Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin, and the winger Ilya Mikheyev among the team’s pending unrestricted free agents.
Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin are set to become restricted free agents on the blue line, while forwards Ondrej Kase and Pierre Engvall are in the same situation.
Matthews said the belief — a word repeated over and over again on Tuesday — remains strong that it’s the right mix that will ultimately carry Toronto past the playoff milestone.
“I believe it,” he said. “I think everyone in this room believes in it.
“I know that deep in this room we all believe in each other. It’s still a tough pill to swallow, but I don’t think that belief has ever wavered.
Toronto defender Jake Muzzin, a Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings, said the key will be to come back in September knowing that, for all the positives, there is still more to give.
“I have to find another gear,” he said. “Everyone in the room, we need a little more.”
The Leafs, for a man, are confident this season has been a step up.
Time will tell if this is the case.
“Progress has been made, although it’s hard to feel that,” Keefe said. “The work for next season has already started.
“The confidence in our group is stronger than it has ever been.”
LEAFS REACT TO MARNER’S CARJACKING
The team confirmed that Marner was the victim of a carjacking Monday night in the west end of the city.
The winger was at the Toronto training center on Tuesday but was unavailable to reporters.
“I’m just glad he’s okay,” Campbell said. “It’s quite a traumatic experience.”
SPEZZA CALM ON THE FUTURE
Veteran forward Jason Spezza was in tears as he walked off the ice after Saturday’s Game 7 loss.
Slated to turn 39 next month, the Toronto native said it was too early to make a decision on his playing future.
“I love the game,” said Spezza, who added he’ll only wear the Leafs. “Conversations will take place over the coming days and weeks.
“I’m a little lost right now, to be honest.”
GIO ENJOYED TORONTO TIME
Giordano, another Toronto native veteran, is ready to continue in blue and white if things make sense.
The 38-year-old defenseman had two goals and 12 points in 20 games in a depth role after being acquired from the Seattle Kraken before the trade deadline before adding two playoff assists.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoyed my time here,” Giordano said. “It was a great experience.”
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