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Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas speaks to media during an end-of-season availability in Toronto, on May 15, 2023. The Maple Leafs were eliminated from the NHL playoffs by the Florida Panthers on Friday.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Great news – the Toronto Maple Leafs are okay. They’re better than okay. They’re doing great.

I know you must have been worried. You hear it wherever you go in this town: “All these poor guys get is millions of dollars to be disappointing at hockey. How are they holding up?”

They manage by focusing on the positives. Like those millions of dollars. And the fun they have at work. And the fact that they never have to change.

“I think that there’s so many great players here,” said Mark Giordano on Monday.

Could you name a few? Because it wasn’t exactly obvious against Florida.

“I think there’s a continued belief in our group here,” said John Tavares.

From who? Your accountants?

“I love my teammates,” said Ilya Samsonov. “We look in the future like positive.”

Maybe “positive” means something different in Russian.

“They care,” Michael Bunting said of the Core Four. “They care so much.”

Yes, you can tell that from the way they’re smiling.

The big news out of Monday’s annual May locker clear-out is that Auston Matthews would like to re-sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“My intention is to be here,” said Matthews, who has one year remaining on his deal. “I really do enjoy playing here. It’s a true honour.”

The less talked about news is why Matthews or any of his cap-gobbling, playoff-pooching colleagues would ever consider leaving? Where else will they have an entire franchise bent to their collective will for what is beginning to seem like forever?

The knock on Toronto is that it eats hockey players alive. They’re so wound up by the attention and criticism that they develop performance issues. It’s never their fault they’re not good. It’s Toronto’s fault.

It’s become a convenient myth because the exact opposite is true. Toronto isn’t a hockey town any more. It’s become a bunch of hockey suckers getting grifted every year by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s the same con on repeat.

A couple, three years ago, some of these same players came to locker clear-out day looking shocked. A few, God bless their hearts, looked scared.

Not anymore.

They’re older now. They’ve figured out how this works. Toronto gets angry, the players pretend they’re sorry and we do this all over again. Nobody ever gets fired or traded. Everybody trusts the process.

If they say the magic words – adversity, lessons, experience, evolution, culture, belief – the city falls back under their spell.

The Leafs players know it doesn’t work like this everywhere. The New York Rangers took a big swing this year. When it didn’t work, they clipped the head coach. He didn’t even get a chance to say he was taking the responsibility onto himself before he was expected to take responsibility onto himself.

The Florida Panthers had the best regular season record in the league in 2021-22. When they lost in the second round, they tied their best player to a rail and ran him out of town. Just like that. They didn’t even offer him the basic decency of a sixth chance.

It’s scary out there, but not in Toronto. Everybody here understands that you don’t get anywhere by changing things. You get somewhere by doing it the same way over and over and over again until the league either folds or you retire.

Knowing this, every Leaf came in looking both loosey and goosey. William Nylander was grinning like a kid who’s just been told his plane to Stockholm is diverting to EuroDisney.

“I love it here,” Nylander said. “I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Nylander came out somewhere around Hour Six of the day’s exit festivities. At that point, reporters and cameramen were sprawled through the Leafs’ locker room like it was the triage scene in Gone With the Wind. They keep it hot in there. Everybody was getting punchy.

Maybe you’d hallucinated the last few days? Did this team actually win something and we all forgot about it? Because that was the vibe.

But no. Just a lot of happy hockey players looking forward to a fun summer off and another year of highly paid mediocrity to come. Some of them may be getting raises. Is this town great or what?

Bringing up the rear, the head coach and the general manager had the sense not to look too pleased. But neither did they have any explanation for what happened, or any concrete plan of how to fix it.

And again, more with the how great this all is.

“I love and appreciate my position,” Keefe said. “I do feel we’ve made progress as a group.”

The coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs would say this if the franchise was relegated to the AHL. It’s become that thing you do with friends where you say you have to get together and never get together. Saying you’re making progress is a stand in for actually making progress. Just as good as.

Contractless GM Kyle Dubas was even more obscure.

“The goal remains the same, but perhaps the path needs to shift slightly,” Dubas said. “You get in between persistence and full belief versus being too staunch and rigid, and I think that’s a question I would take the time for myself and reflecting on the year.”

Uh. What?

It was suggestive that, against the usual custom, Dubas did not appear alongside team president Brendan Shanahan.

Dubas’s explanation for that absence – that he made the decisions, so he wanted to take “responsibility” – didn’t make sense. He’s been delivering that exact same line for the past four years. Shanahan was always there to deliver it with him.

According to the team, Shanahan will speak “in the coming days.” So maybe there is a bill coming due here.

But if that’s the case, you wouldn’t know it listening to anyone on Monday. In the midst of taking responsibility, Dubas talked about the “hard lessons” this team has learned. Again.

As best I can tell, the only lesson this Leafs team has learned is that as long as you say the word “lessons,” you never have to actually learn any.

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