Maple Leafs' Choice: Give Up on the Season...Or Make a Run?

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Maple Leafs' Choice: Give Up on the Season...Or Make a Run?

There are some in the media who want to see the Toronto Maple Leafs finish in last place and rebuild from scratch.

Some fans that I've talked to have also expressed those sentiments.

If this team makes the playoffs, they argue, they will be bounced in the first round. So why bother?

Why make a push for the playoffs to protect a meaningless stat? (In their long history, the Leafs have never missed the playoffs in three straight seasons. If they miss out in 2007-08, it will mark the third consecutive spring that the Leafs will book tee times early.)

If they finish in ninth place and just barely miss the playoffs, what good will it do?

They all say that if the Leafs finish dead last, they will get a chance to have the first overall pick in the Entry Draft. They they can blow up the team and go the mid-90s Ottawa Senators route: miss the playoffs every year and build a contender through the draft.

And this year, those Leafs fans argue, there is no reason not to want Toronto to finish last.

Before, there were.

The last couple times the Leafs were so horrible, they didn't even have their first-rounder.

Toronto had already given the New York Islanders their first round pick—No. 4 overall in the 1997 Entry Draft—along with Darby Hendrickson, Kenny Jonsson, and Sean Haggerty in exchange for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider, and D.J. Smith on March 13, 1996.

Toronto finished with the NHL's fourth-worst record in 1996-97, and Isles GM Mike Milbury used that No. 4 pick to select goalie Roberto Luongo.

Luongo is now considered one of the elite netminders in the world.

Incidentally, the Leafs didn't even own their second round pick either, having traded it to Philadelphia, who selected another goalie, Jean-Marc Pelletier, No. 30 overall.

And that wasn't even all. On October 16, 1989, the Leafs traded their first rounder in the 1991 draft to the New Jersey Devils for Tom Kurvers.

The Leafs floundered in 1990-91, and looked like they might finish last overall in the NHL. But thanks to the Quebec Nordiques having a more dismal season, the No. 1 pick—Eric Lindros—went to La Belle Province.

The Devils ended up getting the No. 3 pick thanks to the Leafs' second-last place finish, and selected all-star defenseman Scott Niedermayer.

But enough with the history lesson.

2007-08?

As bad as former GM John Ferguson Jr.—who was let go a month ago on January 22—was, at least he didn't make the blunder of dealing away that coveted first-rounder.

The Leafs still have that pick, so should they finish dead last, they'll have a shot at prospect Steve Stamkos, who has been compared to future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, come summer time.

But do other Leafs fans out there really want to see Toronto finish last?

At this point, the Leafs (23-27-9) have an Eastern Conference low of 55 points—and now rank 29th in the entire 30-team league—despite being just four games under .500. That's the reality of the new NHL, in the era of the shootout.

All those losses and blown leads in the first half have been detrimental, and the Leafs were at it again in their previous game, a 5-4 loss to the Islanders at the ACC on Thursday.

The Leafs had a 2-1 lead when Darcy Tucker and Mats Sundin tallied in the second period, but couldn't hang on in the final thirty minutes.

And of the five goals Toronto allowed in the game, four of them came on Islanders power plays, and the other was an empty-netter. Meanwhile, the Leafs had a chance to tie it in the third period, but couldn't score that big goal with a two-man advantage of their own midway through the final stanza.

So, another blown opportunity for the Leafs, who were 1-for-5 with the man advantage compared to the Isles' 4-for-7 showing.

The Leafs are still mathematically alive, eight points behind eighth-place Boston (29-23-5) in the Eastern Conference.

With 23 games left, Toronto can still make a playoff run, and tonight's tilt against those Bruins at the ACC is a must-win affair.

The Bruins, who are 5-5-0 in their last 10, are looking for their fourth straight road victory, and sixth in their last seven away from TD Banknorth Garden.

If the Leafs still have playoff aspirations, the two points tonight cannot be blown.

For Leafs fans who want the team to finish last and rebuild, Toronto has to tank tonight, as it has done all year long.

Which do you prefer—win against Boston and make a run, or lose and aim for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft? And are you a Toronto fan or hater?

Discuss.

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