This will be the final Maple Leafs-only column you’ll see in these pages until next season begins. So, as the summer rolls along — and after the winter we’ve had in Toronto, I pray it rolls slower than former Leaf Jason Allison during a shootout — you’ll have plenty of time to consider the direction in which the once-proud franchise is moving.
To gauge that direction, you’ll need to ask yourself some specific questions. With that in mind, here are four important inquiries whose answers should illustrate what Leafs fans can expect next fall.
1. Who’s The Boss? You’re probably anticipating a Tony Danza/Alyssa Milano joke here, and I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, I won’t be the only one disappointed if the Leafs’ search for a new GM ends without the hiring of an elite hockey man who has numerous championships on his resume.
Even a savvy hockey lifer such as NHL chief disciplinarian Colin Campbell would have to be considered a runner-up choice, given Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment head honcho Richard Peddie’s publicly-stated desire for a proven winner.
The list of candidates who fit that bill is very short, so it will be easy to see if ownership follows through on its promise.
2. Who’s The Coach? Sure, it’s Paul Maurice right now, but most hockey observers I speak with figure the Leafs’ next GM will want his own man behind the team’s bench.
That likely spells doom for Maurice’s tenure in Toronto, but don’t shed too many tears for him. He won’t stay unemployed for long — especially if the TV world needs a great commentator.
3. Wither Mats Sundin? I know what you’re thinking: What the hell does “wither” mean? Well, it means “what of,” and what becomes of Toronto’s captain will go a fair ways toward determining the team’s trajectory — although not completely in an on-ice sense.
If the 37-year-old Sundin — who is officially done for the season with a groin tear — doesn’t retire, he’ll almost certainly return to the Leafs. But given the franchise’s salary cap woes, the big Swede will need to take a hefty pay cut if he wants to surround himself with talented teammates. And if he objects to being paid less, the Leafs should cut ties with him altogether.
4. How Many Leafs Underachievers Have Been Bought Out, Traded Or Demoted To The Marlies? If the answer is “less than three,” start ironing your wave-able white flags right now.