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No miracle for the Maple Leafs….

Everyone in Leafworld was no doubt hoping against hope that the blue and white would "win" the NHL draft lottery on Saturday night. Had they won the sweepstakes (and with it, the rights to the first overall pick in the June draft), they would not be any better an organization than they are right now.  They would simply have been more fortunate.

The Leafs will still be in a position to select an awfully good hockey player with the fourth overall selection, and they do have another pick later in the first round. If their scouts have done a good job, and with a bit of luck, they should be able to move forward with an infusion of skill to add to other talents in the system, including Gauthier, Brown and of course Nylander.

Even if the Leafs had managed to be able to pick first overall, I can’t say I would be a whole lot more interested in their activities than I am now.  As I outlined in my previous post, I believe they are still adrift. I don’t doubt Shanahan has a vision, but so does every other team in the league. And most of those shrewd organizations are way ahead of where Toronto is in terms of management acumen—even if a Mike Babcock arrives to coach the squad.

The Leafs haven’t suddenly cornered the market on smarts, or knowing how to build or rebuild a roster.  Lots of other franchises have done it with greater success and much more quickly than the Leafs have over the past decade.

So the Leafs pick where the standings basically told them they would, and maybe that’s as it should be.  This is not an organization that deserves short cuts.  Ownership has been able to attract, if they chose, the best hockey minds, management types and coaches with which to build a winning culture here and it hasn’t happened in over a decade. So it seems only fair that Shanahan will have to do it the old fashioned way—without jumping the queue. 

That means wise drafting, better player development than we have seen here in a long time, and bringing on board a coach that players will believe in. The approach will require coachable players, too. We need some leaders, and players who will follow inspiring leadership.

I don’t even know what to say about the roster at this point.  It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion  that Kessel and Phaneuf may not be back (though things can always change, eh?).  Every summer we dream of how good the “kids in the system” will be, but I’m still waiting to see someone who is really out of the ordinary, other than Rielly (maybe Nylander?), who is a fine young player indeed—but he’s not “in the system”.  He’s already been here for two seasons.

How can we really measure where the Leafs are at, or how quickly they may become a serious contender? Some clubs turn things around quickly. Others, like the Oilers, have built patiently through the draft yet have seemed to go nowhere.

Here’s the reality: as I mentioned, many teams are ahead of the rebuilding curve compared with the Leafs; lots of teams have really good net minding; plenty of other teams have a solid defense corps.  Every strong playoff team seems to have strength up the middle, and play with some combination of speed and toughness—and “will”.

At times over the past few years I thought the Leafs were getting there, and now it feels as though that level of consistent play is a ways off.

As I’ve said before, I don’t have much to say at this point, until we have hired a GM (I sense it will be someone internally, but who knows) and a new head coach.  Then there’s the draft, trades, free agency.

Bottom line: there is no apparent instant savior.  McDavid is not coming to Toronto. And no, no package of players to the Oilers or the Sabres will wrestle one of the two top picks away from those teams.  People have been waiting on McDavid for years—the Oilers won’t let him get away. Eichel will go to the Sabres.

The first round of the playoffs remain, for me, the best hockey of the year.  Sixteen teams battling their guts out to stay alive. Teams with skill, speed, character, leadership, and toughness.

Those teams are already there, and a few others not far behind them.

When we watch good teams in action, playing when it matters most, we recognize that the Leafs can talk about a vision, but it means nothing until they can field a roster some day that, like real playoff teams, plays like they hate to lose.


  1. I've never been so riveted, watching something as mundane as a draft lottery.... even though I enjoyed watching Faye Dance host the Wintario lottery as a young man. It definitely felt like, as you mentioned Michael, there was a real shortcut being offered up here to a lucky team that got to jump their place in line during a very special draft year. My initial reaction was anger that Edmonton got it yet AGAIN (!!!), but further analysis of that particular emotion showed that it was just plain old jealousy rearing its ugly head. The same jealousy a Sabres or Oilers fan would have exhibited if Toronto had gotten lucky.

    The fallout from all of this, will most likely be Edmonton being very active on the trade market. They've been criticized plenty for being myopic in their draft selection, and having some decent top tier forwards, but no defencemen or goaltending to balance out the squad. Unless their plan going forward is to win every game 9-8 (like the 80s Oilers!), I'd imagine that probably Yakupov will be shopped around, as Edmonton looks for a decent D-man that can eat some minutes. Maybe Dion Phaneuf is that guy, and I could think of far worse things than adding a 21 year old, former #1 draft pick into the mix. The package would need to include a lot more than just Dion, but I'd roll the dice on that one. Yakupov may have been a bit of a disappointment thus far, but if you look at the last 20 years of #1 draft picks, they seldom turn out to be a complete bust. Keep your cell phone near your night table, Brendan. That sort of move would also calm any fears Edmonton might have about release a young forward into the Western Conference, where the player may haunt them endlessly. OK... I'll take my GM hat off now.

    The dialogue has certainly changed Michael, looking back at the beginning of the season. Near the tail end of that massive winning streak, we were asking each other if this Leafs team is the "real deal", and what key piece might bring them over the top. As frustrating as this will be, I'm actually glad that things went sour this year, as at least there's a better sense of knowing where we are, which is at ground zero of a team rebuild.

    The playoffs have been fantastic so far, and there's nothing better than the first round, with hockey just taking over the TV. I was watching Nashville/Chicago this afternoon, and just enjoying the underrated little things that make a team great. Fast line changes, finishing every check, and an almost ridiculous level of effort overall. Hopefully we've turned the corner, and are heading in that direction in Toronto.

    1. I echo your comments about the playoffs, Russ. It's not an overstatement when people talk about how different playoff hockey is. It really is that much more intense, for sure.

      As for the Leafs, it will be a hectic summer, no doubt. Trades, the draft, free agency and a new coach.

  2. Regarding Shanahan and his vision, I just hope he has a long enough leash to implement it. I think the biggest problem the Leafs have had is that they change course too frequently. I'd rather see a bad plan fully executed than a good plan that we give up on if we don't see immediate results.

    1. Apologies for the delayed response, Oliver. Fair point about the need to see a plan through.

  3. Hi Michael.

    Yes, I was disappointed we didn't win the lottery but we didn't drop either. I do wish it wasn't the Oilers!

    Not because their fans (like us) don't deserve at least something positive but because the organization, after looking like they might change the way they were doing things and promising "big moves", fired one of their smart hires, Tyler Dellow, by mid season and did nothing else. (Dellow is a lawyer, a respected pioneer in hockey analytics and one of their more vocal critics.) I wondered at the time whether they'd actually make use of him or if they just wanted to shut him up. It became clear the idea was to shut down his excellent site and muzzle him. Sad to do something like that to a life-long Oiler fan. I've heard most of the Edmonton media are pro-organization and didn't care for him or his opinions-- the failure of this season is goal-tending/ young Hall's fault. Poor kid. Does that ever sound familiar.

    I don't know what's to become of the Leafs as they move forward but I do think they've gotten smarter. I stopped watching Nonis contradict himself in interviews a long time ago. I don't think the "vision" -whatever that is! --changes no matter where the Leafs pick in the draft this summer. There are some some very exciting young players available. I can't remember where I read this-- "planning to win the draft lottery to improve your team is like planning to win a lottery to improve your retirement fund." Besides, one great player can't turn a bad team into a winner. McDavid to the Leafs sure would have been nice, though.

    I hope the future includes increased trading partners, careful development and PLEASE someone who can better evaluate talent at the pro level. I'm trying to stay positive. I know I won't like all the moves and there's more suffering ahead before we know if Shanahan has the answers.

    1. In closely related news Colleen, Bob Nicholson got his executive power expanded greatly by the Oilers owner today, if that means anything. For Oilers fans, hopefully that means that owner Daryl Katz didn't want to fire his past heroes and buddies himself, so he offered Bob a bigger hammer, so he could have a more detached presence during sweeping changes. That management group has mismanaged young players even worse than the Leafs in the past 5 years, and that's no small feat. Nicholson is such a respected hockey visionary here in Canada, that I can't imagine he'd accept an elevated title if the end result just lined his pockets with a few bucks, but offered no more actual power to overhaul that management group.

      I can't imagine that the NHL head offices were overly impressed by the outcome either, as the whole point of the lottery is to spread those #1 picks around the league, as opposed to one team being gifted with 4 of them in 6 years.

    2. Hello Colleen,

      Sadly, I am going to admit that I watched the Draft Lottery live on Saturday night. That's what the Maple Leafs have reduced me to...

      As each of the envelopes was revealed and the Leafs hadn't been bumped out of the fourth spot, I became increasingly excited. I thought the hockey Gods might finally be smiling on our beloved Maple Leafs and we would get the chance to draft Connor McDavid. Unfortunately, that didn't come to pass.

      When the Oilers were revealed to have won the lottery, I sat there in complete disbelief. Talk about a team the hockey Gods have smiled extensively on over the past 5 years - three 1st overall draft picks to now be supplemented with another 1st overall pick this year. Yet, what have they managed to do with those picks - so far nothing.

      While he was walking the long walk out to the TV studio, I saw the look on poor Connor's face. Talk about a kid who looked like someone had just shot his dog.

      Now all we as Leafs fans can do is hope and pray that when he gets his 7 years of service in with the Oilers that he will want to come home as a free agent to play for the Maple Leafs.

      In the mean time, we can hope the Leafs will land one of Strome, Marner, or Hanifin. Though my gut tells me Arizona will scoop up Strome leaving Marner or Hanifin for the Leafs to choose from. Don't get me wrong, either of those players would be solid additions to the prospect pool of the Leafs and would fit in with the longer term rebuilding plan. Only time will tell.


    3. Hi Wayne!

      Yes, McD didn't look happy--and I'm sure most youngsters would like to play close to home-- but there have been some very positive developments within the Oilers franchize since the draft. I'm excited to know there are others, like Marner and Strome, that would love to be Leafs.

      It would be great if we could pick up an extra 1st round pick for this draft or even an early 2nd, but picks for 2016 and beyond may also be very valuable and might be easier to get this off-season. Not many teams are willing to deal their picks for 2015.

      Really great work on the up-coming changes to the draft on your site, Wayne. And what might have been. I haven't kept up with the Fronts this year at all (Crouse), but I saw Sam Bennet play once or twice. Gilmore is the GM there but changes may be coming.

  4. That should be good news for Oilers fans, Russ.

    Four in six years and that's just the first overall picks. It would be more fair to other teams to eliminate teams from picking first if they've won it in the last three years--but I do obsess a little when it comes to what I think is fair. I haven't read the new changes /rules for the draft next year but it may come a year too late for the Leafs anyway. ..of course.

  5. Hi Michael,

    I have to agree this is the best time of year for hockey with four high intensity playoff games every night. The second round is always exciting as well. This year the playoffs have added significance as the fallout from the first round could determine the Nashville first draft position. It could be as high as 20 if the Hawks, Wings and Wild all prevail so all theses games are very important to Leafs fans. They have been saying this is the deepest draft since 2003 when Corey Perry went at 28th. Leafs will be getting an excellent player picking fourth but if they can also get a player similar to Corey Perry with the Nashville pick it will give the current rebuild a big boost.

    Shanahan as you say clearly has a plan but I don't get the feeling the Leafs are simply drifting and the big question is will the plan work this time. There has been a lot of change with management, coaches and scouts all fired. I think the changes started last June when the Leafs went for skill with Nylander instead of power forward Nick Ritchie. Last week on coach's corner Don Cherry said the Leafs blew it when they picked the little Swede over Ontario boy Ritchie who already has 10 goals in 8 games in the OHL playoffs and he said that is why Shanahan fired Nonis and all the scouts. I hope Cherry is wrong and the reason was because of some of the other picks like Tyler Biggs or some of the signings like Clarkson who the pro scouts must have thought was a good idea. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that Cherry is wrong on this one. Ritchie is looking good but he is still in junior playing with smaller players he can overpower while Nylander has some pretty impressive stats as an 18 year old playing in the AHL.

    Other changes came in September with the Marlies. Last week Kyle Dubas said Nonis wanted a "winning culture" so the Marlies played vets over prospects and Shanahan changed that to play and develop the young kids. I think the hiring of Dubas and Hunter marked the end of the old school way of thinking. MLSE also finally seems to be ready for an actual rebuild and are prepared for a few years or longer of missing the playoffs.

    There is a pretty interesting analysis of player turnover on Maple Leaf Hot Stove. Over a three year period all 30 teams on average changed 17 of 25 roster players. So the actual player turnover is a lot higher than most people realize and my conclusion is there are eight key players on a team but it can be pretty hard to get those eight players that will make the difference. If you look at the Leafs the seventeen players like Holland, Panik, Komorov are not that hard to get. With JVR, Kadri, Rielly, Nylander and maybe Gardiner the Leafs are already over half way to the eight key players they need and they could be picking up two more this June. You also have to think they can get a few players for Kessel and Phaneuf so just maybe the Leafs are not as bad or quite as far away as it appears.

    1. Thanks Alton. I hear you but I'm hesitant at this stage- we need to see results.

  6. Edmonton is the best proof that getting a #1 pick doesn't guarantee success! I'm content with where we are - Strome could be a good fit for us, and Hanifin as well. Who knows? Only time will tell. As Grandmother O'Malley likes to say: "There's no such thing as the foreseeable future".
    In the meantime, I'll sit back and enjoy watching hockey being played the way we haven't seen it for well over a decade.

  7. Michael, I don't blame you (for even a fraction of a second) regarding your reticence to 'buy in' to the Shanaplan at face value. I'm squarely in a Missouri state of mind - the Leafs have used up a lot of goodwill, so I'm firmly in 'Show Me' territory.

    My own nature is to look for the best possibilities (optimistically), yet I've been burned a few too many times to just 'jump on board' 'hook-line-and-sinker' (mixed-metaphorically speaking). I can see the potential for some changes that I'm hoping will 'pan out,' yet I'll need more than a few sequential organizational 'wins' before I even notice if my (O'Malley) cup is beginning to even approach 'half-full' with this organization group. I don't want to 'extend' the same grace I've proffered repeatedly in the past to this new management group - may not be 'fair,' but I'm looking for results this time.

    I have been enjoying the underdog Flames as they compete with a seemingly full 'buy-in', yet I can't help but notice a rather large center who is increasingly effective as he has finally grown into his body somewhat. I can't understand why we kept Orr AND McLaren, instead of letting Colborne find his own development pace. Clearly, management misread our potential after the Boston series and, perhaps, thought we didn't have the time to let Joe develop in the NHL. Burkie sure benefits and finding the young man has some 'truculence' to boot (he's sure laying out some significant hits and board work, to go along with his increasingly consistent play). My main comment pertaining to the above situation as it may apply going forward, is my belief that Biggs still has a chance to become more than the bust that many seem to expect - I hope he rewards my faith.

    When I turn my attention from the organization, in general, to the prospects in the fold, I am happy to see Brown and Nylander developing and hope they play exactly where it would be best for them to become excellent pieces when they arrive in the Leaf lineup - I hope we don't rush them into the lineup before they're fully 'baked.'

    I had hoped to win the Lottery, but I'm also happy we didn't drop to 5th - we're sure to add a fine prospect to the mix (and I can keep hoping for a miracle trade for McDavid's draft slot - until it's no longer a possibility, however remote. I mean, really, why not hope, it's no worse than most of the hopes over the last 10 years, is it?!).