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Dave Feschuk: Seven burning questions for the Maple Leafs entering season seven of the Shanaplan

Dave Feschuk: Seven burning questions for the Maple Leafs entering season seven of the Shanaplan
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When Brendan Shanahan took over as Maple Leafs president way back in 2014, he made pains to avoid grand pronouncements and rash moves.

At the time, he was applauded for steering clear of the hasty mistakes of his predecessors and embracing patience. Brian Burke wasn’t on the job 10 months before he was tossing away the future for Phil Kessel. Shanahan gave Randy Carlyle a two-year contract extension before he got around to firing him.

Plenty of good things have happened to the Leafs since. They’ve accumulated some of the league’s best talent. They come into the 56-game season that begins Wednesday as the consensus favourite to win the NHL’s COVID-necessitated Canadian division. But the Leafs, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, have also weathered a frustratingly repetitive kind of disappointment, failing to advance in the post-season for four straight years. Toronto’s potential tantalizes, yet the clock ticks.

The impending NHL season amounts to sports reduced to a TV show. There’ll be no bums in seats, no hockey-night buzz on Bay Street. Scotiabank Arena will essentially act as a studio for regular episodes of one of Canada’s favourite soap operas. But if the Leafs are eternal, the Shanaplan begins Season Seven on Wednesday night against the ancient rivals from Montreal. Patience is a virtue, sure. But a seventh season without a bare minimum of playoff success ought to stretch anyone’s tolerance for the same-old storyline.

There’s plenty of hockey between here and there, of course, and Shanahan, as part of an aggressive pre-season messaging campaign, has been selling the notion that he and his brain trust have made the necessary adaptations and adjustments to finally fulfil the franchise’s considerable promise. That’s hardly a grand pronouncement. It’s also highly debatable. To wit, here are the seven burning questions in Shanahan’s seventh season.
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