TORONTO | Spring is when the leaves fall in Toronto, Maple Leafs haters like to joke.
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But to see the disappointment that the players still displayed, almost three days after this sixth straight elimination in the first round of the playoffs, one can suspect that they do not find this joke funny at all.
Because it still hurt on Tuesday, this loss in extremis conceded on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, in a seventh hotly contested game.
All that for this
Faces were long at the team's training complex in Etobicoke, where eight players marched past reporters to post mortem another great missed opportunity.
It was in addition to that of last season against the Canadiens, after which many had criticized the Leafs players for not having "the instinct of the killer".
It also added to the first round series lost in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2013 and 2004.
But this one seemed particularly painful.
Of course, losing to the double Stanley Cup champions is less embarrassing than losing to a team qualified by the skin of the buttocks, against whom they led 3 to 1 (read here the Canadian last year).
Except they believed it, the Maple Leafs. The 115 points scored in the regular season was a franchise record.
Auston Matthews scored 60 goals during the campaign. Mitch Marner had 97 points. And twice, the Leafs had the chance to finish with the Lightning.
Among the most disappointed players on Tuesday was veteran Jason Spezza, who, soon to be 39, doesn't yet know if he will continue his career.
"I honestly believed we had the team to go far this year," the forward lamented, ironically posted under the banners that commemorated Toronto's Stanley Cups.
"These chances, they don't come often. So it's tough," Spezza added.
A different team
The team president still found some good in this umpteenth defeat in the first round.
Brendan Shanahan was frustrated, sure. But he believes that "even though we weren't able to eliminate the Lightning in Games 6 and 7, I saw a different team and a different approach [from those of the past]. »
So few new faces are expected to enter the Toronto locker room next season.
But general manager Kyle Dubas still acknowledges that it is his responsibility to find "the right pieces to move forward" in the coming months.
Moving forward and finally breaking this curse that has dogged the Leafs for almost 20 years.
As well as that - of the Stanley Cup - which has haunted them for almost 60 years.
Despite the perpetual setbacks of the Maple Leafs in the playoffs, neither head coach Sheldon Keefe nor general manager Kyle Dubas will lose their jobs, the Ontario team president assured Tuesday.
In a press conference at the team's training complex in Etobicoke, Brendan Shanahan said he was "frustrated" to see his Leafs lose again in the first round of playoffs.
But he still went there with a vote of confidence in his coach and his DG.
"I think Kyle built a really good team and made some good adjustments along the way," the former hockey player said. And I think Sheldon is a great coach. »
"We won't make changes just to make changes," he added.
Despite it DeBoer
There are, however, some big-name coaches who have lost their jobs in the last few days, including Barry Trotz with the New York Islanders and Peter DeBoer with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Wouldn't the Maple Leafs benefit from hiring one of these pilots who have already led their team far in the playoffs, even to the Stanley Cup final?
Dubas immediately shut the door on the idea, which he says never crossed his mind.
"I never thought about it just because I believe in Sheldon and love the work he's done so far. »
The Shanahan-Dubas-Keefe trio have now worked together for eight years. And, in those eight years, the Maple Leafs have lost six times in the first round.
"We can make a lot of jokes about it, say we're now sleeping apart, but I'm not going there," Shanahan said.
“Winning — for those who go through it — is absolutely unifying. But the heartbreaking defeats, coming so close to winning... all of that can also bring us closer, ”believes the president.