National Post (Latest Edition)

Buds not in Bolts’ league

- Terry Koshan

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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