So there is a popular joke in Toronto that goes like this:
"How do you know it's spring in Toronto?"
Answer: "The Leafs are out."
It's actually funny because it's true and we've been saying it for decades. Year after year, Leafs Nation looks to mediocre success. They claim that this will be the year that The Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup, their first since 1967, in which there were only the 6 original teams in the NHL.
I had thought that Brian Burke would have been the new look that The Leafs were looking for, and it turned out, I was wrong on that end. For whatever reasons, that experiment didn't work, and I think Brian Burke himself would tell you that without reservation.
So MLSE looks to a new passer-of-the-torch to bring the Holy Grail of hockey back to Toronto. This comes in the form of a man who brings a new thought process to the sports mentality. A man who plans the parade route of The Stanley Cup before Toronto wins it.
This man is MLSE's President and CEO, Tim Leiweke, and I love his vision.
Now, I don't know Leiweke and I have not spoken to him yet, but I am going to make some predictions as to what will happen in Leafs Nation this summer.
Leiweke is a visionary man. He has a replica of the Stanley Cup in his office at the Air Canada Centre. He has had his hand in L.A. with championships with the L.A. Kings and the MLS, Galaxy and he brings a new attitude to winning here in Toronto. He is yet to really put his mark on The Leafs like he has with TFC and The Raptors, and with The Leafs missing the playoffs this year, and last year's meltdown against the Bruins in game 7, look for a new direction.
Men like Leiweke don't wait for results, they create them. You can only create success with people who believe it to be possible, and I feel that this has been the problem in Leafs Nation. Every single NHL franchise has the same intention, to win the Stanley Cup. They all have the same salary cap in which they can spend to get it, and they all train with great coaches and systems. Yet, the one missing link is the mentality they instil into their group of players.
So, it is my prediction that they will fire head coach Randy Carlyle at the end of this season. Carlyle is a Norris-winning defenceman, but The Leafs had one of the worst defence in the entire NHL this year. Look for a coach to be brought in who is less of a player and old-school systems guy, but more of a Ted Nolan approach. Coaches now will need to be much better communicators and leave the systems up to their assistants, instead of the other way around. Look for this to change...
A coach can only get so much out of their players. A great coach can make a mediocre player extraordinary. Unfortunately, there is some dead wood that needs to be moved first. Look for Nazem Kadri to be moved in this re-build. Kadri simply doesn't make any of the players around him better. His lack of work ethic and off-ice training leave him as a talented forward, but talent alone will never win at the NHL level. Leafs G.M. Dave Nonis was smart to sign him to a bridge contract which will make Kadri's potential to be realized somewhere else, but his time and chances are done in Toronto.
Unfortunately, The Leafs will also lose goaltender James Reimer this off-season as well. Reimer is widely acknowledged to be a wonderful person and team mate, yet his team did not play well in front of him. He struggled with rebound control and confidence, while Leafs Nation blamed him for an 8 game losing streak in March which ultimately cost them a spot in the playoffs. Reimer deserves to be a starting goalie in the NHL, and I sincerely hope he gets it. He is one the classiest acts in hockey and I wish him well, but it won't be in Toronto.
Look for The Leafs to remove Dion Phaneuf as captain. Leiweke values leadership, period. It is safe to say that Phaneuf is not the leader they thought he could be when they gave him the "C". It would be better to have no captain, and 3 alternates and in the interim, so look for this to happen. Ideally, The Leafs will trade for a #1 pairing defenceman with leadership skills. This would allow Phaneuf to return to his second pairing role and play a more manageable 18 minutes a game. This would take the pressure off of him and allow him to do what he does best, and not ask him to earn his $49 million contract being something he isn't capable of.
The question of leadership in the dressing room will be addressed so look for character players to be injected into the mix.
The rest will be smaller moves, but I think this will be the start of a great run for The Toronto Maple Leafs.
I look forward to seeing the clearing of 45 years of doing it the wrong way, and seeing the vision of Leiweke to bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto.