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Toronto Maple Leafs: Time for change after missed opportunity?

Canada’s long wait to see one of its ice hockey teams win the Stanley Cup will extend by another year after the Florida Panthers dumped the Toronto Maple Leafs out of the NHL play-offs.

It is now 30 years and counting since the Montreal Canadiens won the title – a dismal statistic for a fiercely proud ice hockey nation.

You have to go back to 1967 to find the last time Toronto emerged victorious and this latest play-off disappointment raises plenty of questions.

An inability to handle pressure undoubtedly played a part, although this was no surprise to many people within the sport.

NHL legend Brett Hull was among the doubters before the play-offs started, telling Betway that Canadian teams have plenty of expectations placed on their shoulders.

“Playing for a Canadian team is a double-edged sword,” Hull said. “It’s the life bed of hockey, it’s the national sport, it’s everything up there apart from the Blue Jays and the Raptors.

“Playing there is spectacular, and you become almost a household name. You look at (Auston) Matthews and (Mitch) Marner in Toronto and (Leon) Draisaitl and (Connor) McDavid in Edmonton.

“They’re all household names and they become very famous, but there’s also a lot of pressure on you to win for those Canadian teams.”

The Leafs’ latest failure has inevitably raised questions about where the franchise goes from here, particularly at management level.

Winning their first play-off series in 19 years by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round sparked hope amongst the fanbase that this was Toronto’s year.

However, with their top players failing to deliver when it mattered most, it is not unreasonable to scrutinise the people who put their faith in them.

General manager Kyle Dubas is firmly in the spotlight have seen the Maple Leafs go 1-5 in the play-offs since he was appointed in May 2018.

The future of head coach Sheldon Keefe must also be in doubt, particularly given the array of talent he had at his disposal.

His team blew opportunities to win the first three games against the Panthers, before finally stopping the rot in their fourth meeting.

However, their hopes of turning the series around were dashed in the fifth game, with the Panthers finally completing the job in overtime.

It is unclear whether Dubas will stick around, particularly given the scale of the decisions that will need to be made this summer.

Several respected pundits have called for Dubas to stay, but others believe he lacks the necessary ruthlessness to turn the Leafs into winners.

If he does remain with Toronto, the first order of business must be to part company with Keefe, who has been unable to deliver Stanley Cup success in four attempts.

From there, decisions need to be made over the futures of several top earners including team captain John Tavares.

Getting his $11 million salary off the wage bill will not be easy, but would give Toronto more wiggle room as they strive to build a Stanley Cup-winning team.

If Dubas does stay he must be hard-nosed about making tough decisions. Failing to fully commit to this will only result in further heartbreak for the team.

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