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