Sunday, May 19, 2024

With Maple Leafs suffering yet another early playoff exit, it’s time to break up their core

As the Toronto Maple Leafs participated in the handshake line following their Game 7 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins, a cruel reality set in. It finally may be time to make some significant changes to the team’s roster after another opening-round playoff exit.

The Maple Leafs fell to the Bruins in a hard-fought seven-game series that culminated Saturday. Obviously, Toronto was without the services of star center Auston Matthews for two games during the series as he dealt with an unknown illness. 

While the Maple Leafs did win a pair of games without Matthews in the lineup, it certainly wasn’t due to an offensive barrage over that two-game stretch. In fact, the Maple Leafs averaged just 1.71 goals over the entire series.

Over the years, Toronto has put a great deal of faith in their core group of Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, and it has very little to show for it.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Matthews said regarding Toronto’s core group. “I mean, in the end, it’s a game of inches [and] we haven’t quite gotten over that hump. But obviously, through the years, you grow and we’ve come extremely close.”

During their time together, the Maple Leafs trio has won just one playoff series, which came against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, this was a franchise that hadn’t been victorious in a postseason series since the 2003-04 campaign prior to that win.

Matthews and Nylander both signed massive contract extension over the last calendar year, so it’s obvious neither is packing their bags to head elsewhere anytime soon. Still, something has got to change after another year of failing to make a deep run at a Stanley Cup.

It’s time to shake things up and attempt to move on from one of the team’s top assets in Marner.

Marner does have a no-movement clause in his contract, so dealing him wouldn’t exactly be the easiest task to undertake for the Maple Leafs front office. Still, it may be best for both parties to part ways at this point.

During the series, Marner tallied just one goal and two assists. He registered an assist in Games 3 and 5, while scoring a third-period goal in Game 4. 

However, Marner’s effort on both ends of the ice left a little to be desired at various points, including in the guts of Saturday’s Game 7.

For example, Marner found himself on the defensive end of the play when Bruins star David Pastrnak scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7. Marner was back-checking on Pastrnak in the neutral zone, but let Pastrnak blow by him and get in position to score the game-winning goal off a dump-in from Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Pastrnak turned on the jets on the play, and Marner’s teammates certainly didn’t do him any favors. There’s no guarantee Marner would’ve been able to muscle Pastrnak off the puck if he had a little bit of backup, but it still wasn’t a good look for Marner to be beat like that.

The 2024-25 season is the final year of Marner’s contract, and he carries a $10.9 million cap hit in that final year. It’s not going to be any easy task to move that type of a contract.

Despite his lackluster postseason, Marner is still a sensational top-six forward capable of helping another team. The veteran winger tallied at least 85 points in each of his past three seasons, including recording 26 goals and 59 assists in 2023-24.

Something has to change with the Maple Leafs’ roster, and moving Marner just makes too much sense. If Toronto can find a trade partner that Marner is willing to go to, it’s going to be for the best for both parties.

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