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The excitement of the NHL draft behind us, the Leafs still have some missing links…

There would have been surprise—and no small amount of disappointment—had the Maple Leafs not selected Auston Matthews first overall in the NHL entry draft this past weekend. Not that there weren’t other outstanding players available. It’s simply that Matthews has been the player that the hockey media has focused on, and he is widely seen as the consensus franchise-type center most clubs crave.

It was a selection that has been discussed as a virtual certainty for months, and something Leaf fans have dreamt about since the possibility of having the first selection overall looked more likely as the 2015-’16 NHL season wore on.

Having assiduously worked over the past year and a bit to acquire an array of picks for this year’s draft (and for the next couple of years, for that matter), Leaf management had plenty of latitude to identify and draft the kind of talent they want this past weekend.  Other sites will provide much more expertise with regard to where those other draft choices may fit down the road within the Leaf structure, as I have precious little insight to share about kids playing in Europe, U.S. college hockey or junior hockey here in Canada. (Those of you who may have seen some of the Leaf draft picks play in person, by all means share your thoughts here…)

What we do know is that the Leafs seem to have a pretty strong reputation around the league with regard to the management team Shanahan has built over the last couple of years.  As with most clubs, the management group includes hockey pros with varied expertise, whether we’re talking about Lou Lamoriello, Mark Hunter, Kyle Dubas or the Leaf scouting staff.

We may agree (or not) with specific decisions around trades, etc. but I sense most Leaf supporters are at least confident that the organization will by and large make wise choices going forward when it comes to personnel.

With the draft behind us, though, the one thing that seems clear to me is that the work of re-constructing this team so it can truly be competitive with the best NHL teams is still in the very early stages. As is the case every year in May and June, when you watch the playoffs and those teams who grind their way to the finish line, we see that it takes a tremendous amount of not only skill but also experience and willpower to succeed against the best of the best at this level.

The Leafs have some nice young talent, and with Matthews in tow, there is perhaps even more to be excited about. 

But this is clearly far from a finished product. There is still a lot more to do in terms of building a talented, hard-to-play-against roster that hates to lose—and shows it almost every night by the way they play. (On that note, I still really like Komarov, for example, but how long will he be here? Regardless, we need a lot more than one or two guys that play with an edge…)

The Leafs have some nice “pieces”—individuals who play with obvious passion and some who have tremendous skill. Some guys have both.  But right now, we are lacking in a few areas, as one would expect of a team that finished last out of thirty teams in the NHL standings.

Most “experts” suggest Matthews will be a dominant center in the league.  But who is our best center now? Do we have strength up the middle, which is always vital to the success of any NHL team?

Who are proven leaders, guys who have won before in the league and have played their best hockey at crunch time?

Is our "system" filled with guys with potential, or players who will actually be difference-makers down the road?

The kids—Nylander, Brown, Matthews, Marner, et al—may turn out great.  But as I often say, every organization has plenty of kids who they think will turn out great. We may be a little ahead of some teams with our pipeline, or a bit behind compared with some others.  But kids alone (and potential) won’t win a championship.

So my question for you today is: what do you see as the areas where, realistically, the Leafs need to be a lot better within the next two years for fans to feel confident that this team can not only contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference—which to me is still a very low bar—but something much  more than just that?

We have a demanding and well-regarded coach in Babcock (though if we look around the league there are plenty of other good, successful coaches, no question) and appear to have improved our goaltending reality with the acquisition and signing of Andersen.

But while important, those things are still only part of building a championship-caliber puzzle.

Do the Leafs still need to be more “team tough” as some of us have talked about here over the years? Do we have enough grit? Who, again, are the leaders? As good as Rielly might become, will he ever have the impact on the blueline of a Doughty, for example, or a Seabrook or Duncan Keith, to name just a few with Stanley Cups on their impressive resumes? If not Reilly, who will be Toronto’s shutdown defenseman?

I like a lot of what the Leafs have done recently.  There is reason for legitimate optimism.  But as fans, we know (and as Shanahan and his people recognize, I’m sure) the Leafs remain a long way away from the promised land.


  1. You have surely identified many of the areas that the 'Shanny-Plan' needs to address yet, unlike most previous iterations of Leaf management, I don't feel as gullible trusting that they actually know what they're doing. And, that's probably harder to say now than it was after the past we've experienced together, when hindsight taught us how unfounded our hopeful expectations really were.

    Someone recently said to me that 'Expectations are really just pre-meditated disappointments' and that fits with the sound of the word I have noticed previously - expect-a-shun. I now prefer the word 'expectancy' because it sounds realistic to expect-and-see what really happen as it unfolds!

    One element of management's manifest plan (if I'm perceiving correctly) is that the drafting of overagers (who could come to the Marlies sooner for further oversight and development as a possibility) and some contracted Europeans (who can continue to develop amongst men) provides flexibility to put them under SPC NHL contracts later on. Some could be on Marlie contracts and develop there (or the ECHL Solar Bears) and others could be granted later (when we may have less draft picks and all the trade winds have settled a bit more in future years), since we still retain their rights and we can sign some players later (once we've seen their development more and the contracts can fit within the 50-player limit).

    I think they are maximizing every possible angle that they've identified and we can only hope that this gives us plenty of 'kicks at the can' to assemble a good mix while mitigating the ever-present likelihood of a few mistakes along the way!

    1. The Leafs are, in a sense, doing what Sam Pollock did in the old days during the Montreal dynasty of the '70s when he was always looking to trade for futures. Pollock recognized that the Habs would not always hit on their picks but knew a few "wins" would make it all worthwhile. (Of course, the Habs were always winning, and the Leafs are just trying to become a contending team..)

      There's still work for Leaf management to do, but they have certainly made strides. Thanks, InTimeFor62.

    2. Wow... I had forgotten about that - thanks for reminding me, Michael! Perhaps the Jacques Lemaire connection added that perspective to the mix (or else they're reading your blog :)