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SIMMONS SAYS: Step one for Leafs is signing Matthews

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Marner or Nylander: Pick one to stay Canada's most read sports column delivered to your inbox a day early Enjoy this Simmons Says column one day early, appearing online and in print Sunday, May 21 BY: STEVE SIMMONS Everything about the Maple Leafs has to start with Auston Matthews. Getting him signed. Getting him committed to Toronto long-term. Building this next phase of the Maple Leafs around an all-star calibre centre of size. You don’t win the Stanley Cup without a front-line centre. And you don’t trade Matthews away — or let him walk in free agency — because you can’t replace a player of that calibre. Colorado won the Cup last year with Nathan MacKinnon. Over the past 10 seasons, Jonathan Toews has won two Cups, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have won two Cups, Brayden Point has two Cups. Other Cup winners include Anze Kopitar along with Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Big-time centres, all of them. Without Matthews, the Leafs have nothing resembling a No. 1 centre. And maybe, after the stunning news of Friday, Matthews’ time in Toronto got more complicated when president Brendan Shanahan chose to remove Kyle Dubas as general manager. Here’s the thing with Matthews. His agent and good friend, Judd Moldaver, is close to Dubas but even closer to Dubas’ agent and friend Chris Armstrong. Dubas and Armstrong went to Brock University together. Armstrong and Moldaver worked for IMG in Toronto together and went different ways before ending up at Wasserman Media, an agency that represents Connor McDavid and Matthews, among its largest NHL stars. How much of the Moldaver-Matthews-Armstrong-Dubas relationship will impact Matthews' future with the Leafs? That’s impossible to know without a general manager in place, with so much unknown about the Leafs immediate front office circumstance and their most important player. THIS AND THAT The best available general manager not working is Stan Bowman. The best available coach is Joel Quenneville. Neither has been approved to return to the NHL. Both want to return. Would a politically correct, modern, semi-woke company such as Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment ever consider either of these men, pushed out because of the Kyle Beach investigation? I would certainly consider it ... Sheldon Keefe is no different than you or I. He has no idea whether he will return next season as Leafs coach ... When MLSE hired Masai Ujiri for the Raptors they essentially stole him while he was working for the Denver Nuggets as GM. Would the company consider something similar in chasing a replacement for Dubas? There might be GMs in place around the NHL who would have interest in the Toronto job? ... GMs not working as GMs who I would consider hiring if I’m Brendan Shanahan: Doug Wilson, who wants back in the NHL and he’s only 65; former Calgary boss Brad Treliving; player agent Pat Morris; player agent Pat Brisson; Leafs assistant Brandon Pridham; broadcaster Kevin Weekes; Tampa assistant Mathieu Darche; London GM Mark Hunter ... The new Leafs GM has a large decision to make. Do you keep Mitch Marner or do you keep William Nylander? Really, you can’t keep both. If you’re signing Matthews and you’re stuck with John Tavares for two more years, that means one of Marner or Nylander has to be traded if the viewpoint is you can’t stick with the Core Four. Matthews should be untouchable. Tavares won’t waive his no-trade arrangement. That leaves the difficult choice between Marner and Nylander ... Nylander is the more spectacular player. Marner is better all-around, especially defensively. Nylander has proven he can change a playoff game. Marner has not been able to do that. You can go back and forth on this, but one of them, really, has to go ... I don’t believe it’s possible, but a Marner-or-Nylander trade for Charlie McAvoy or Quinn Hughes type of player would intrigue me ... Is there a coach out there who believes Nylander could play centre full time? Moving Nylander to centre and Tavares to the wing could solve at least one Toronto problem if that is doable. HEAR AND THERE Toronto fans are funny. They loathe Sam Bennett and Radko Gudas for doing what they used to adore about Darcy Tucker and Tie Domi ...Gudas is a free agent. He might be worth a look for the Leafs as a fifth-sixth defenceman ... One problem Leafs had in the playoffs that didn’t get enough conversation: The rather weak play of the normally dependable T.J. Brodie playing alongside the occasionally overmatched Jake McCabe. And I wonder: Could the Leafs have picked up Mattias Ekholm from Nashville for not much more than they paid for McCabe ... It’s impossible, but I’d rather have Ryan O’Reilly at centre for the Leafs at $5 million a year than Tavares at centre for more than twice the price ... If Keefe is let go as coach, and there is reason to believe that’s coming, it’s impossible to know who the next Leafs coach is without knowing who the next GM will be ... This is nine years for Shanahan as president of the Leafs. The next 40 days might define his time on the job ... You succeed in the playoffs when middle-of-the-roster players like William Karlson have multi-scoring games after potting just 55 goals in the past four seasons for Vegas... On the list of activities for the new Leaf GM: 1. Signing Matthews; 2. Deciding on coach Keefe or hiring a replacement; 3. Rebuilding the front office with Jason Spezza and possibly Pridham gone; 4. Deciding between Marner and Nylander or keeping both; 4. Deciding what to do with Matt Murray, his bad legs and his contract; 5. Figuring out how to revamp the Leafs defence, again ... At 6-foot-4 and 238 lbs, wearing about 40 lbs of equipment, Frederik Andersen is far and away the largest player in the Eastern Conference final. So explain to me why someone of this size and strength can’t fight his way through to make a stop instead of having scores called off too easily for goaltender interference. Sometimes, interference is obvious but sometimes the goalie doesn’t fight hard enough to make the save ... I bet if you asked Dubas today about the contracts he negotiated with Matthews, Marner and Tavares he would tell you he paid too much and gave up too much flexibility in the new negotiations. It’s one thing to give money and term. But to give money, term and no-trade arrangements is something he’ll learn from in the future ... I honestly believe if Dubas said he wants to work next season, he would be hired tomorrow as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. WILL LEAFS REGRET FIRING DUBAS? Alex Anthopoulos was 32 years old when the Blue Jays hired him as general manager, the same age Kyle Dubas was when the Maple Leafs promoted him to GM in 2018. Anthopoulos didn’t have the greatest start to his managerial career — and at times there were calls to have him replaced. But by the time his tenure in Toronto was nearing the end, Anthopoulos had grown from a numbers cruncher to a deeper broader thinking executive who had the Jays in the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. That was the beginning for Anthopoulos as one of the baseball’s leading executives. Since then, he’s won a World Series in Atlanta, been to the playoffs every season with the Braves, has become the leading advocate in the sport for signing players early in their careers to long-term under-dollar-value deals. You could argue today that Anthopoulos is the best general manager in baseball. And all of that has to be among the many concerns with Dubas now leaving the Maple Leafs. He came to the job, not unlike Anthopoulos, as a numbers-first supporter. He came to it too soon. But over the years, he has grown and the organization has grown and Dubas has grown into a respected member of the hockey community. This could be like it was for Anthopoulos — just the beginning of what might come. The Blue Jays made a mistake when they let Anthopoulos walk away. Are the Maple Leafs repeating history and doing the same thing here? SCENE AND HEARD There’s a long list of Blue Jays concerns through the first quarter of the Major League season. They are doing nothing great. As a team they are eighth in runs scored, 10th in home runs, eighth in earned run average, and eighth in WHIP. And as of Saturday, they were tied for seventh in the AL, tied for last in the AL East, where the club has a 5-10 record in divisional play ... And aside from Bo Bichette, Chris Bassitt and Kevin Gausman, is anyone having great seasons with the Jays? ... The Tampa Bay Rays, with the 28th largest payroll in baseball, are first in batting average, home runs, runs scored, hits, OPS, and OBP in the AL and are first in earned run average, hits against, WHIP and opponents batting average. And after all these Tampa years, this still seems amazing ... The 27 scoreless innings thrown by Bassitt are more than remarkable, especially considering the only Blue Jays to have better numbers are named Dave Stieb and Roger Clemens ... After all these years, should we still be asking this question: Is Cavan Biggio really a Major League player? ... This year and last year’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is a good but not great big league hitter. The Guerrero from 2021, he was exceptional. Shouldn’t Guerrero be somewhere between 2021 and today with his production now? ... I do wonder if Alek Manoah is in too many commercials, too many promotions, and too much celebrity stuff this early in his career. It’s great being a personality, it’s better if you’re getting people out ... The Miggy Cabrera farewell tour isn’t proceeding as planned. The all-time great has no home runs, is batting .182, has more strikeouts than hits in this, his final season with the Detroit Tigers. AND ANOTHER THING The words of Bret Hart best describe the late Jim Brown. “The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.” ...  You can’t explain Nikola Jokic. He plays a game no one has ever played before, with a style no one ever has seen. The Denver Nuggets are 10-3 in the playoffs, 8-0 at home. Jokic is averaging a triple-double in the post-season. He doesn’t look athletic, he doesn’t look natural, and he doesn’t look smooth. But no one can stop him ... Shouldn’t this be easy for the Raptors? You hire Monty Williams to coach and then move on to the rest of your off-season business. You won’t find a better coach than Williams to replace Nick Nurse ... Pascal Siakam’s name is all over the NBA trade sites with the draft coming up a month from now. Could the Raptors get the third pick from Portland in a deal for Siakam? Picks 4-5-and-6 may also be in play from Houston, Detroit and Orlando ... MLSE paid $10 million for the expansion Toronto FC franchise. The MLS has just expanded to San Diego. The cost of the team: $500 million ... Rafael Nadal has a 112-3 won-loss record at the French Open, where he won’t play this week and may never play again. Soon, Novak Djokovic will be the only member of the Big Three both active and healthy enough to compete at the highest levels of tennis ... I liked the Patrick Mahomes tweet, all but welcoming the Arizona Coyotes to Kansas City ... The NHL and the Coyotes spent $750,000 in campaign money to get the yes votes for the arena project in Tempe. The no-voters apparently spend $37,000 US on their marketing. The no-vote won handsomely. What I’d love to see: An accounting of how much NHL money has been spent over the years in propping up hockey in Arizona. The number would be in the multi-millions and would include the $300 million the league lent to Alex Meruelo so he could purchase the Coyotes ... The more I watch Jimmy Butler the more impressed I am in retrospect that the Raptors knocked off Philadelphia on their 2019 championship run ... I suppose the notion of Becky Hammon, NBA head coach, is now in peril ... What do NHL general managers do after they get hired? Well, if you’re Chuck Fletcher, you spend 17 days in India and Nepal, on purpose ... As exciting as he may be, the NBA is a better place without Ja Morant ... Is it just me, or does Jayson Tatum just lose himself and where he is in big games. Not all the time, just sometimes ... Happy birthday to Josh Allen (27), David Wells (60), Todd Stottlemyre (58), Bobby Cox (82), the-vancouver-sun Cassidy (58), Ricky Williams (46) Rufus Crawford (68), Craig Patrick (77), Craig Anderson (42), Leroy Kelly (81), Jamaal Magloire (45) and Stu Grimson (58) ... And hey, whatever became of Corey Schwab? Twitter POSTMEDIA'S You received this email because you are subscribed to Simmons Says newsletters, registered as [email protected] • • • Contact us • Digital Ad Registry © 2023 Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved.
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