Toronto Maple Leafs Looking At Yet Another Lost Season: But A Lottery Pick Is In Sight!

March 8th, 2012 14 Comments

“What could have been?”

These four words have haunted many a Toronto Maple Leaf fan for decades.

The 2011-12 season has had its fair share of “what ifs”, including “what if Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke had the foresight to add a veteran goaltender to the roster this summer?”, to the question that is on everyone’s mind these days, “what if the Maple Leafs had avoided their late season collapse?”

As the 2011-12 season inches closer to the end, it appears as if—barring a miracle from the hockey Gods—that the Maple Leafs will miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season.

The way things are going Toronto fans can no longer scoff at the suggestion that their beloved Maple Leafs may go an entire decade without participating in the playoffs.

Sound crazy? Perhaps. But keep in mind, the Maple Leafs are not far off  from making that a reality and with the team just a few weeks from setting a new record for futility, the threat of missing the playoffs for ten straight seasons, however slim, is still a possibility.

Sure, Burke has assembled a decent roster which features an all-star defenseman (albeit it a debatable one) in captain Dion Phaneuf and two of the NHL’s top-ten scoring leaders in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, respectively, but there are plenty of holes throughout Burke’s lineup and plenty of room for improvements.

The tri-fecta of Phaneuf, Kessel and Lupul can be effective on some nights. That said, it is the rest of the team that seems to be plagued by inconsistent efforts and a laundry list of mental gaffs which costs the team wins and continues to crush the dreams of Leaf fans from coast-to-coast.

When you consider the roster Burke inherited when he signed on with the team there is every indication that Burke has done an admirable job in raising the talent level at the both the NHL and AHL levels. The Maple Leafs AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies look to be on the right track to respectability. Thus far success has eluded the Maple Leafs organization the at the NHL level.

Some nights the Maple Leafs glaring need for a true number one centre is exposed, on other nights the goaltending lets them down. And then there are the defensemen who often look out of position and out of shape.

Of course, outside of Kessel and Lupul—who have been consistently good for the Maple Leafs—the forwards must assume their fair share of the blame, where both offensively and defensively they have let their teammates down on countless occasions.

As late as the first week of February the Maple Leafs occupied seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings and looked to be making their way up the standings . Some spirited play from the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers, combined with a complete collapse by the Maple Leafs, has conspired to put the Blue and White into 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings—a mere seven points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens, who occupy the Eastern Conference basement with 60 points on the season.

As it stands right now, the Maple Leafs sit 24th overall in the league standings, not quite bad enough to land a lottery pick, but bad enough that any dream of the playoffs have subsided.

The Minnesota Wild sit one point behind the Maple Leafs’ in 25th spot overall, while the New York Islanders currently occupy the fifth and final lottery pick spot at 26th overall in the standings— a mere two points behind the Maple Leafs (or ahead of the Maple Leafs depending on how you want to look at it).

With Burke’s team currently marred in a 2-7-1 slide, there is every indication the Maple Leafs could very well find themselves in a lottery pick position, which might just be the best thing for this franchise.

The last time the Maple Leafs drafted in the top five was 2008 when former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher took defenseman Luke Schenn. Schenn has had moderate success, but there is room for improvement.

Before that you would have to go all the way back to 1989 when the Maple Leafs selected Scott Thornton third overall, and before that, it was Wendel Clark being selected first overall in 1985.

For the record, Stu Barns was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets just one pick after Thornton, while Bill Guerin was chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth spot, but hey, who’s counting, right?

Lord knows the Maple Leafs have made a mess of their fair share of top-five picks over the years. The Maple Leafs selected winger Tom Martin fifth overall in 1964. Martin played a grand total of three NHL games. Toronto followed the Martin pick up with another beauty in 1966 when they chose centre John Wright, who was another flop.

In fact, the Maple Leafs have only had two successful top-five picks—three if you count Schenn. The other two being the aforementioned Wendel Clark and defenseman Al Iafrate, both of whom were all-stars at some point in their careers, both of whom had successful NHL careers with the Maple Leafs and beyond.

When you consider the Maple Leafs poor track record of drafting talent you could make an argument that it doesn’t really matter where the Blue and White pick this summer. Let’s face it, sure as God made little apples, if any team is going to screw up at the NHL Entry Draft it will be the Toronto Maple Leafs—at least that is what history supports.

That said, there is a lot less chance of messing up a lottery pick than there is picking in the top-ten—where the Buds have made some real “beauty” selections as well.

There is not a general manager or coach in all of hockey that would ever encourage their team to lose regardless of the benefits of selecting a player in the top-five picks of this summers NHL Entry Draft may hold, but you cannot fault the Leafs Nation for wanting their team to flop right now.

There is nothing in the rule books that says the fans cannot cheer against their teams’ success, so with the Maple Leafs very close to a lottery pick this season I encourage every Maple Leaf fan to pray for their beloved Maple Leafs to continue to come up small down the stretch.

If the Maple Leafs cannot make the playoffs the least Brian Burke and Company can do is bring us a lottery pick, right? At this point, winning a few extra games to round out the season will do little for this franchise. If the Maple Leafs were able to tumble in the standings there is a very real chance that Burke could land the likes of Nail Yakupov (the top ranked junior in this summers draft)—now that would be something to be proud of, huh?

Until next time,

Peace!

 

 

14 Comments

  1. David says:

    Technically, Fletcher took Schenn 🙂 But there are theories and videos to state Burke had a hand in it.

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Hey David-

    you are correct Sir! For some reason I always get my dates confused on when Schenn was drafted and when Burke arrived.

    Cheers!

  3. Hudson says:

    What do we atheists do, Mark? 😉

  4. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Hud—

    We’re Toronto Maple Leaf fans— Given the lack of success this team has had over the years and the amount of praying for better times that has come with the struggles, I guess we should all consider becoming Atheists! Rest assured….you are not alone!

  5. peterj says:

    The scary part is even if they finish low enough to get a top 5 pick Burke will probably trade the pick for another pussy that can score but hasn’t got a clue on how to play in his own end LOL.

  6. ARE WE SUGGESTING THAT THE LEAFS THROW GAMES . THATS POOR SPORTS MAN SHIP .just like the white socks back in the early days . get a life . try try again quitters never win . wheres your pride . anyone can loose it takes guts to win .GO LEAFS GO

  7. peterj says:

    Me thinks they have already gone for this season.

  8. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Gerry—

    No. I am not saying the Maple leafs should throw games, but I would be lying if I said I WANTED them to win the rest of their games. Better to bottom out at this point and take advantage of a high draft pick.

    If they win, they win, but after cheering for them all season long, I am turning my sights on next season…

  9. Dave says:

    Agreed 100% and well said. Heres a perfect example…

    Everyone remember 2009 when the Leafs went on a streak at the end of the year? The difference was Nazam Kadri vs. Brayden Schenn. Burke will not throw games and I have yet to see an NHL do so blatently. Having said that, a nudge in that direction with an eye for the future has happened. i.e. using future prospects in the remaining 10 to give them experience and evaluate talent, etc.

    I’m pissed that were in the position we are and dont see clearly how this happened. Having said that, a shot at Nail or Mikhail is the best of a bad situation under the circumstances.

    Another year of exepting defeat….I hear ya dude. Lets at least have something to show for it!

    Dave

  10. Mark Ritter says:

    Hey Dave—

    I was at the Kitchener Rangers game last night. I was able to scout Faksa. He is ranked in the top ten, has decent size and plays centre—although he played a lot on the wing last night.

    This kid (who is an OHL rookie) could be an option for Toronto should we miss out on the lottery picks.

    Faska scored two nice goals last night. He wasn’t a physical presence, and he did float around for the first 40 minutes, but he can skate and you can see he is oozing with creativity.

    Mark

  11. nhl fan says:

    Hey Mark

    Let’s give Schenn and Burke’s draft picks time. He has had 3 drafts, so his picks should just start making the team next year.Guys like Khadri, Blacker, Colbourne and Mueller. The young core of player’s have never looked better as long as I have been a fan.

  12. Mark Ritter says:

    nhl fan—

    Yeah, the more you look at things it becomes very obvious the Maple Leafs time to shine or fail is 2013-14. At that point, we will know if Kessel resigns and, given the lack of players signed at that point in time, Burke can finally have his guys in the lineup—or so we hope…

  13. Dave says:

    Faska could be interesting although I would think that would be a unexpectedly high pick if he went top 6 or 7. Having said that, he would fit the bill for the leafs in terms of size, skill and he could fill a future need a centre. I can’t recall a draft where theres been this many defensemen in the top 20…weird. Tells me the skill is lacking in terms of scoring which makes me weary about anyone up front….

  14. Hudson says:

    Go panthers!!! =)

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