The Song Can’t Remain the Same: Time for a New Tune in Toronto

by Darren Clarke, May 15, 2023

“It’s another chance for us to change the story.”

Kyle Dubas, May 17th, 2022

Kyle Dubas’s end of year press conference in May of last year was another exercise in his most undesirable trait- stubbornness. Despite being fresh from the latest installment of damning evidence showcasing a flawed Leafs core lead by a coach once again second best at doing his job in a playoff series, Dubas obstinately promised to roll it all back without major change. It was Kyle Dubas and the greater Leafs organization condescendingly ignoring valid critiques and casually dismissing his team’s disappointing results as just an extraordinary run of bad luck.

And it would be one thing if the organization told Leaf fans to eat cake and then went and proved us all wrong. It’s quite another when we are in the exact same spot as last year (and the year before and the year before and the year before…) only with an aging group and a coach whose resumes now contain only a greater abundance of playoff disappointments.

In essence last May the Leafs management team flipped us all the bird and defiantly pronounced, “We’ll show you! We won’t even change our lame Hall and Oats goal song!”

And then they went out and confirmed all our worst fears. They showed us what we already knew- They weren’t good enough, determined enough, smart enough.

Meanwhile, in Toronto the media is uncharacteristically unsure of what should happen going forward in regards to Kyle Dubas, Sheldon Keefe and the Core Four. So let me tell you- everybody not named William Nylander should be gone. As immediately as possible. Because like that Hall and Oats goal song, the more we are forced to listen to it, the harder it is to like. Because Mitch Marner alternating between mopey and petulant in interviews, Auston Matthews passively-aggressively using the word, “obviously,” every third word in interviews, it’s just so damn tired and symbolic of the malaise within.

Game Three of the Florida series provided all the evidence for the need for massive change as down 2-0 in the series the Leafs came out lifeless and flat, particularly their core guys, and despite being in a position to steal the game, they were at the end of 60 minutes and into overtime lacking in conviction in their play, they were once again afraid to lose.

“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”

Phil Conners, Groundhog Day

Five years ago Kyle Dubas inherited the blossoming talents of William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner alongside a team poised for a significant playoff run. In that time he has managed one playoff series victory, one.

During this five years the Cult of Kyle Dubas kept telling the unwashed masses, “You just wait, not only will we win the Stanley Cup we’ll be the smartest team to ever do it!” A message that only increased in smarminess when Mike Babcock couldn’t get the young team, fresh off a massive rebuild, past the first round against more fully formed teams in Washington and Boston.

Those promises of glory only increased in volume when Kyle Dubas’s hand picked coach Sheldon Keefe took over from Babcock.

But they just kept losing.

Unlike Babcock though, by the time Keefe took over the stars now had had ample opportunity to gain playoff experience and Dubas ample time to build around his central cast. The team was fully Dubas’s vision.

But they just kept losing.

Only now, instead of losing to elite opponents, they lost to Columbus, a Montreal team that was the worst team to make the playoffs that year. Tampa of course is an excellent team no doubt but what was concerning two years ago was first, how obviously they were once again increasingly outcoached at the series progressed, second, the complete disregard for the idea you have to be able to beat an excellent team to be one. The same thing happened this year only Andrei Vasilevskly was largely bad enough in the series to give the Leafs the margin of error they needed to overcome being outplayed and outcoached. Then of course they immediately went out and lost in five games to the team that had the least points entering the playoffs.

Sheldon Keefe now has had more kicks at the playoff can with a mature team than Mike Babcock had with an immature one coming out of a rebuild. And we’re not demanding a coaching change?

After round one of the playoffs the Dubas fanboy contingent of Toronto sports media like Mike Johnson declared it a complete vindication for management and players. After one round. That’s how eager these analytics types were to dismiss the abundant data testifying against this Leafs team rich history of being unable to win meaningful games. And here is where we find the problem not so much with analytics themselves but rather those most eager to wield them- it comes from a deeply placed insecurity that fuels an emotional need not just to win but to appear super brilliant while doing it. This Wile E. Coyote “Supergenius,” pretense is what has every Leaf season ending via the hard, hard, truth of a proverbial ACME anvil dropped by opponents who simply play the game smarter and with more conviction.

We could get further into the details- the stubborn attachment to Justin Holl, the idea that they could win a Cup with Luke Schenn playing significant minutes, we could talk about the pointlessness of Alex Kerfoot etc. But what’s the point at this juncture? Kyle Dubas has had a lot of runway to show us and he didn’t. Worse, his team was entirely lacking in charm while doing it.

Failure is one thing, failure while being a complete pill should compel massive change, right now.

Maybe we can start with a new goal song.