National Post (Latest Edition)

Buds not in Bolts’ league

- Terry Koshan Sports · College Sports · Ice Hockey · Toronto Maple Leafs · Toronto · Tampa Bay Lightning · Tampa · National Hockey League · Zach Bogosian · Patrick Marleau · Jake Muzzin · General Motors Corporation · Chicago Blackhawks · NHL Hockey · Patrick Maroon · Kevin Shattenkirk · Ron Hainsey · Jason Spezza · Jon Cooper · Steven Stamkos · Victor Hedman · Nikita Kucherov · Alexander Killorn · Braydon Coburn · Andrei Vasilevski · Anthony Cirelli · Ryan McDonagh

The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Light­ning wear blue and white sweaters.

Both Na­tional Hockey League clubs have salary cap is­sues.

There aren’t many more vi­able com­par­isons be­tween the Leafs, play­off pre­tenders, and the Light­ning, 2020 Stan­ley Cup win­ners.

Never mind that some seem to think that if only the Leafs can some­how find a way to add play­ers in a sim­i­lar vein to for­wards Bar­clay Goodrow, Pa­trick Ma­roon and Blake Cole­man, and vet­eran de­fence­men Zach Bo­gosian, Kevin Shat­tenkirk and Luke Schenn as Tampa did, they will be well on their way to Cup glory.

That’s not go­ing to hap­pen. Not with the fi­nan­cial re­stric­tions that bind Leafs gen­eral man­ager Kyle Dubas, who had con­trol over sign­ing four play­ers to a to­tal an­nual stipend of US$ 40 mil­lion, but not over the lack of growth in the cap, which flat­tened at $ 81.5 mil­lion, thanks to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Even if the Leafs are able to add vet­eran ex­pe­ri­ence — and they have made sim­i­lar moves in the re­cent years, bring­ing in Brian Boyle, Pa­trick Mar­leau, Ron Hain­sey, Jake Muzzin, Ja­son Spezza and Kyle Clifford — it won’t be to the ex­tent Light­ning GM Julien Brisebois was able to deepen his ros­ter be­fore and dur­ing this past sea­son.

Light­ning coach Jon Cooper said after the Game 6 win against the Dal­las Stars that heart­break helped get the Light­ning over the play­off hump. Cap­tain Steven Stamkos, an on- ice fac­tor for a mere but im­pact­ful five shifts in the play­offs, fi­nally got to pass the Cup to close pal Vic­tor Hed­man.

Con­sider the play­off losses the Light­ning en­dured. Start in 2014-15, when they lost in the Cup fi­nal against the Chicago Black­hawks. Nine play­ers who kissed the Cup on Mon­day night — Stamkos, Hed­man, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler John­son, Alex Kil­lorn, On­drej Palat, Cedric Pa­que­tte, Bray­don Coburn and An­drei Vasilevski­y — were part of that club five years ago. Twice that core would get as far as the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nal, ap­pear­ances that sand­wiched a play­off miss in 2017, be­fore get­ting up­set by Colum­bus in the first round last year ( after win­ning the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy).

Along the way, in­te­gral young­sters in­clud­ing Bray­den Point, An­thony Cirelli and Mikhail Ser­gachev were added. Ryan McDon­agh was brought in to bol­ster the dress­ing room and the blue line.

Yes, we can ex­pect the Light­ning to look a bit dif­fer­ent once the 2020-21 sea­son starts, when­ever that might be. Their cap sit­u­a­tion leaves Brisebois no choice. But they will have a Cup, and their core, which is bet­ter than what the Leafs boast, should re­main in­tact.

As Tampa burst through the bub­ble and won, the dif­fer­ences be­tween them and Leafs be­came clearer.

The Leafs aren’t as close as they like to think they are.

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