There are many Leafs fans who would thoroughly and genuinely relish the moment if the Toronto Maple Leafs finished the season in last place.
Of course, I'm talking about the benefit Toronto would have from such a dismal season—the first pick in the 2009 NHL Draft.
Most fans would even settle for a top-five selection.
These are the fans who are having pleasant dreams of John Tavares wearing No. 61 for the blue and white. Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, and Brayden Schenn look just as good, too.
Oh no, there goes that pesky alarm clock radio with news that the tenacious Maple Leafs keep winning games even if a playoff berth in nonexistent.
Well, what did you expect them to do? Roll over and play dead?
The Maple Leafs keep hovering between the No. 7 and No. 10 spots. God forbid if they ever have to draft in the 11th to 15th positions.
The ACC Platinum Country Club might protest by not going back to their seats until the three-star selections.
Hold on, I think they do that already.
The truth is, it’s not only some fans who support this crazed way of thinking, but the Toronto media also report and analyze every twitch the Maple Leafs make.
Most hockey analysts are trying to convince viewers, listeners, and readers with their opinion that the Maple Leafs are doomed because they are situated in “draft limbo.”
Remember Doug Wickenheiser, Darren Veitch, Doug Smith, Joe Cirella, Gord Kluzak, Brian Lawton, Neil Brady, Shawn Anderson, Wayne McBean, Daniel Dore, and Dave Chyzowski?
I'm willing to bet you don't, but if so, then you know that they were all players chosen in the top five in drafts from 1980 to 1989.
This list doesn’t even include the 1990s, which included more familiar names, like Pat Falloon, Scott Lachance, Todd Warriner, Alexandre Daigle, Aki Berg, Andrei Zyuzin, Alexandre Volchkov, Richard Jackman, Patrick Stefan, and Pavel Brendl.
I hope you get the point.
Just in case, however, let me reaffirm it.
I’ll bet that you remember Ray Bourque, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Brian Propp, Michel Goulet, Jarri Kurri, Steve Larmer, Grant Fuhr, Al MacInnis, Chris Chelios, Dave Andreychuck, Pat Verbeek, Doug Gilmour, Cam Neely, Rick Tocchet, Patrick Roy, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Joe Niewendyk, Brian Leetch, Joe Sakic, John Leclair, Theoren Fleury, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour, Teemu Selanne, Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte, Rob Blake, Keith Tkachuk, Martin Brodeur, and Jerome Iginla.
I know it’s a long list, but I’m trying to make a point, so stick with me for a while.
You guessed correctly if you say that these are players chosen after the fifth pick from 1980 to 1995. Most of them were drafted in the second round and beyond. The earliest draftees on this list were chosen eighth overall.
Not only are they great hockey players, but current and future Hockey Hall of Fame members who have propelled the game to new heights.
Plus, I didn’t even include Russian players like Sergei Federov, Alexandre Mogilny, and Pavel Bure because Communism prevented teams from risking a high draft pick on these players.
So, the Maple Leafs shouldn’t have to worry about “the lottery” because sports drafts are a lottery anyhow.
If the Leafs develop a very strong scouting staff, then they will always have a chance to draft quality talent, no matter what place they finish in the standings.
However, the draft remains virtually unpredictable, so success is not always guaranteed.
It would be a disaster to purposely lose hockey games just to have a chance to draft Tavares or Hedman. This is a very young Maple Leafs squad that is trying to learn how to win and lose in the highest quality hockey league.
Do you honestly want them to think they can’t win without Tavares on their team?
What about young people who emulate their favourite players and teams? Whether they become future professional hockey players or choose another career, do you want your children to think they can “pack it in” whenever the “importance level” drops?
If you answer yes, that’s bogus and you know it.
Maybe it’s important for a few fans to know that their favourite team is winning hockey games. I'm talking about the blue-collar parents who just shelled out hundreds of dollars so that their kids can watch their beloved Maple Leafs.
Yeah, it’s not the biggest tragedy in the world, but hockey’s not the most important aspect of life either. It’s a form of entertainment and people deserve to watch a great hockey game—even if the teams playing are already eliminated from the playoffs.
The Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last season, not Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. If this doesn't prove that sports franchises don’t have to finish last for five years in a row to eventually win, then I don’t know what will convince the masses.
Leafs Nation is better off concerning themselves with Brian Burke’s draft record. Most of his first-round picks have developed into decent NHL players, and, of course, Chris Pronger is the best of them.
However, it’s Burke’s draft record after the first round that should worry Leafs fans.
His picks in the second round and thereafter are not impressive. I’m not taking his recent drafts into consideration because these players still have a chance to develop. But, anything before 2003 can easily be criticized.
Great drafting requires a fantastic scouting staff, and Burke’s draft record has me wondering if he is devoted to building this essential part of a sports organization.
Then again, many general managers have wised up in the last couple of seasons, and Burke does seem slightly improved compared to a decade ago. I’m sure he learned a thing or two in that time because he made a smart pick by drafting Corey Perry very late in the first round.
I’m digressing, however, because the point of this article was not to question Brian Burke. I wanted to demonstrate that the Toronto Maple Leafs should not “roll over and play dead” just to draft Tavares.
The Leafs, as I have proved, can still draft quality players at any spot in the draft. Perhaps they may draft a future Hockey Hall of Fame member in the second round like Edmonton did with Mark Messier.
As for the Leafs play down the final stretch of the season, I am glad that they are choosing to win because they are setting precedent for next season and beyond.
They are trying to build a championship attitude and instill the idea that winning is infectious.
Just ask the Detroit Red Wings and they will tell you what winning has done for them in the past 15 years.