Marner Should Not Be The ‘Scapegoat’ For Maple Leafs Playoff Exit

It’s the same old story yet again, as the Toronto Maple Leafs season ends after a hard fought first-round playoff matchup. But instead of facing the usual rivals like the Boston Bruins or Washington Capitals, this time around, the Leafs took part in one of the most anticipated playoff matchups in 42 years. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have not met in the postseason since 1979 and the series did not disappoint. 

Despite being the heavily favoured club, the Leafs were not able to beat the Habs in the best-of-seven series, however, it was never going to be a quick and easy one. Not only because of the way in which each team is built and their playing style, but because of all the history. The Habs and Leafs are one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports, let alone hockey. No matter how stacked one roster was over the other, it was always going to be a hard fought battle on both sides. In the end, it was Carey Price’s brilliance between the pipes and the physical defensive play of the Canadiens that was able to shut down Toronto’s star studded offence. 

The Leafs offence was shut down consistently against the habs, with Mitch Marner receiving much of the backlash. While Marner did have four assists in the series, he clearly had some trouble against the Habs. Some small mistakes, i.e, turnovers, overthinking, and a reluctancy to shoot the puck, has been a constant criticism for Marner over the course of the series, and as such, Marner quickly became the new ‘scapegoat’ for Leafs fans to blame the struggles on.

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Marner did not have a great series, it is as simple as that. He made multiple mistakes that helped contribute to the Leafs collapse after a 3-1 lead in the series. While Marner does have to take a share of the blame, the Leafs fanbase should not be overly quick to judge just one player. Hockey is a team sport and one player does not make or break a team’s playoff chances. The Leafs leading scorer during the regular season was not the only player on the roster to make mistakes.

There were constant turnovers from players up and down the lineup including Marner, Alexander Galchenyuk, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, etc., that all deserve a share of the blame. The entire situation is all too similar to something we have seen multiple times in years past in regards to how the Leafs fanbase treated another star player in Jake Gardiner.

The now member of the Carolina Hurricanes, Jake Gardiner became infamous for his game 7 screwups while wearing the white and blue. He endured so much hate and pressure from the Toronto fan base and media market that he needed to leave the team. While Mitch Marner is a much better player then Gardiner is or ever was, there are many parallels between the two situations. Gardiner made some costly mistakes, but instead of looking at the big picture, fans blamed the easy ‘scapegoat’ in Gardiner, as he was the easiest player to blame for the team’s struggles as a whole.

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History seems to be repeating itself, as yet again, it is an individual being blamed for the mistakes of the team as a whole. While the Marner situation is not the exact same as that of Jake Gardiner, the parallels are there.

The 24-year-old native of Markham has been an integral piece for the Leafs during his five seasons spent with the hockey club. This season, Marner finished in fourth place in league scoring with 67 points in 55 games. Only Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Brad Marchand finished the year with higher totals then the Leafs right-winger this year. While the regular season doesn’t matter come playoff time, Marner is a major season why Toronto finished first in the North Division and is an essential part of their offence.

Taking Marner out of the equation doesn’t solve all of the teams issues on the ice. If recent reports are accurate, it may be Marner’s character off the ice that is an issue, which is a whole different story. The majority of fans are more worried about Marner’s cap hit and how he didn’t live up to expectations in the playoffs as opposed to the reports that are only just emerging after the series.

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Marner finished with four points, which tied him with Alex Galchenyuk for the fourth highest scorer on the Leafs this postseason. For a player who is paid almost $11 million annually, you would expect more than four assists in a crucial playoff matchup such as this one. But again, blaming Marner for all of the issues that the team faced does not fix the problem. Marner has proven to be one of the league’s top point producers and arguably the Toronto’s most creative player.

There’s no saying that based on pure skill, if Marner was replaced with someone like Jack Eichel or Patrick Laine, there would be any difference in the result. Marner and Matthews are a proven elite duo that were ultimately stumped in the playoffs.

The Marner issues debate is being quite overblown, as it is just a small part of the team’s issues against Montreal. It was too many costly turnovers as a team, too many delay of game penalties and just a lot of small mistakes that the Habs were able to capitalize on, which impacted the series. A lot of the players who Leaf fans are praising made similar mistakes to Marner as well.

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And coincidently, those players have been some of the best ones. It’s not the one mistake here or there that costs a team a series, it’s consistently making the same small mistakes over and over again without discipline and learning from them that proves to be costly. The reason why Marner is receiving the most backlash is likely due to his contract. As one of the league’s highest paid players, he has a lot more responsibility and expectations on his shoulders compared to someone like Alex Galchenyuk, who is being paid not even 1/10th of Marner’s contract. 

As the offseason is set to begin for the Leafs, the Marner narrative will be interesting to follow. Even more intriguing will be the recent reports surrounding his character off the ice. If his reported “diva-like” attitude is correct, that deserves much more attention and criticism than he is receiving as the most recent ‘scapegoat’ for the organization.

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