This season has been far from a fairy tale for the Toronto Maple Leafs, rather it’s been more like a horror movie, and a tragic one at that. But if the team can continue to do what they have done lately Leaf fans might just witness a retelling of a Disney Masterpiece.
The Maple Leafs had their one game winning streak snapped by the New York Rangers Tuesday night. The Team fell 5-4 to the blueshirts on home ice after a 5-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers and followed that up with a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday. Though from the team’s eyes and many diehard fans, the games were just an extension of the miserable season, for the sake of the team moving forward, this week’s games might have been a slice of perfection.
Losing is in Their Best Interest
The Buds currently hold the fifth worst record in the NHL and have a 8.5% chance of grabbing the first overall pick in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. With that in mind it is no secret that the more the Leafs can continue to lose the better their chances of picking up one of the top picks in the draft. And with the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin, and Dylan Strome all highly touted and potential future stars in the league, if ever there was a season where a team might consider tanking, this might be the year to do it.
However, heading towards the trade deadline next month, no one wants to see the team get blown out 5-0 or 6-0. The team would like their players to put up good numbers because if a rebuild is upon the team, as has been reported, then players who are productive will spark more interest among other teams in the league and help to maximize returns for certain players.
One example of this is forward Daniel Winnik. Following the NHL All-Star weekend there were reports that a trade between the Leafs and Pens that would save sent Winnik to Pittsburgh, fell through last minute. Recently Winnik has been one of the more reliable Leaf forwards having scored two goals and three points in his last five games. Tuesday Winnik also finished second behind Nazem Kadri for the most ice-time amongst the team’s forwards with 19:05.
What also makes the way the team has lost ideal, is simply that they did it in dramatic fashion. As much as fans might not want to hear it, losing is best for the team, but in saying that, Leaf fans generally don’t respond well to poor play on the ice. To save themselves from more jerseys being tossed on the ice and further embarrassment coming to the franchise, competitive games where the team is in the game and has a chance to win would be the most appeasing.
Not Terrible This Week
In both games this past week the Leafs fought back from two-goal deficits to tie the game, only to eventually lose by a single goal. The team was forced to pull their netminder in both contests and seemingly gave themselves many chances to tie the game late, coming up just short of a clinching goal.
Heading towards the off-season, it seems that losing in this fashion is in the team’s best interest. These types of games would keep fans coming to the games, not that that would be a problem in Toronto, but not necessarily leaving them fed-up. Plus whenever fans can come to a game where the team scores four goals, they will likely leave in better spirits than a game where they are shutout.
Despite playing poorly for the first 20 minutes in each of the past two games, it could be argued that the rest of the way the Leafs controlled most of the play and had the higher percent of scoring chances. The Leafs outshot the Rangers 28-22 after the first period and 26-23 versus the Isles.
Of course the team has played very poorly to start each game and has once again had fans and even interim coach Peter Horachek asking the team to increase their “Give-a-S**t” meter.
To Infinite and Beyond
The way the team has continued to climb the McDavid/Eichel sweepstakes latter, while falling in the standings has been almost poetic. It is almost a spot on re-mastering of Toy Story. Everyone can remember the scene where Woody lights the rocket on the back of Buzz Lightyear’s back to shoot them into the sky and ultimately into the car next to Andy.
Well in this case like Woody was, Leaf fans should marvel in the fact that, though the Leafs are falling, they are doing so with style as they head towards the car, which in this case could be a high draft pick and better days ahead. Losing is never fun, but with a better end game and at least some entertainment as they do so, it is the best case scenario as the Leafs look towards the future.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.