I have recently lamented many, many times that this year’s version of the Leafs is frustrating because they are neither good enough to win or even compete seriously for the Stanley Cup nor are they bad enough to get a top draft pick. This lead to me going back over the drafts they’ve done since 2006 to try and find out where they went wrong. I wondered if a good team could be constructed without ever picking first overall. 2006, by the way, marks the first year of futility in their current nightmarish decade – they made the Playoffs in 2004, lost 2005 to a strike, and then started on a record of futility that is unmatched in its level of failure.
You see, teams that are bad for an entire decade usually reap the rewards of drafting high in the annual entry draft.
But not the Leafs. Of the 9 years that have followed the first lockout, the Leafs have made the playoffs one time. Worse though, is that during that time they have had a top three pick just once and they traded it. A feat so terrible and so unlikely that Chicago Cubs fans mock it.
What follows here is partly a ‘what if’ scenario designed to make you sad, but it’s also a demonstration of just how lucky you’d have to be to build a winning team through the Leafs formula, which, as far as I can tell involves signing UFAs to expensive contracts that are universally panned before the ink on them is dry, and trading for players with potential that have for whatever reason lost the favor of their current team.
Better soundtrack it with some light, happy music.
The Leafs Select: Jiri Tlusty. He is mostly known for a series of hilarious naked photos, but he has become an effective player for the Hurricanes.
The Leafs Could Have Had: Claude Giroux. If you take away his rookie year, he’s a career point-per-game player, an annual scoring title threat and one of the best centres in hockey.
The Leafs Select: Nobody. They had the 13th pick, but packaged it along with their second draft pick in exchange for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell. San Jose promptly swapped those two picks for the 9th pick and took Logan Couture. It hurts to even type that.
The Leafs Could Have Had: Lets assume they kept their pick, and that Couture was already gone. Instead, the Leafs take Max Pacioretty. He scored 39 goals last year, one more than Phil Kessel’s career high.
The Leafs Select: Luke Schenn. This was the Stamkos draft. It still makes me mad that the Lightning have had Lecavelier, Richards, St.Louis, Hedman, Stamkos and Drouin and won a Stanley Cup over the last decade. They are an expansion team. Comparing them to the Leafs will only make you cry.
The Leafs Could Have Had: Erik Karlsson
Better listen to this to cheer you up:
The Leafs Select: Nazem Kadri. Great pick here for once. Kadri needs more ice time, and more PP time, but eventually Carlyle will be fired and he’ll get it.
The Leafs Could Have Have: No one. This was actually the best player available and time has not changed that. You could make a case for Ryan O’Reilly who was taken in the second round, but I think Kadri has a much higher ceiling than O’Reilly. Some will say O’Reilly is the better player, but Kadri’s never been on the kind of team he has been on, with players like Dushene. I remind you also that during the shortened season of 2013 Kadri put up a 75 point pace from the third line.
The Leafs Select: This was the first pick used to acquire Phil Kessel. I don’t mind the trade, since Kessel is one of the best players in the world, but it would be a little easier to take if the Leafs had of done something during the time between making the trade and Seguin becoming arguably more valuable a player. That is about a 120 goals and 4 years of his prime flushed away by surrounding him with duds.
The Leafs Could Have Had: Tyler Seguin
The Leafs Select: They didn’t have their own pick here, obviously, and Boston used it to take Dougie Hamilton.
The Leafs Could Have Had: Without Kessel the Leafs would have finished lower and been able to make a an even better pick. They could have taken Sean Couturier at 8th.
It’s too soon to tell exactly how the 2012-14 drafts will work out, but Rielly and Nylander so far seem like good picks. Here, just for fun, is the lineup the Leafs could have had if they drafted better.
Pacioretty – Giroux – Lupul
Holland – Seguin- Kadri
Winnik – Couturier – Komarov
Phaneuf – Karlsson
Rielly – Gardiner
Polak – Franson
Now, I know this is ridiculous, because no one can realistically identify the best player available ever single year, especially the lower you pick. What I have hoped to show you is just how badly the Leafs impatience, whether it’s the Rask, Toskala or the Kessel trade has continually come back to screw them through the years. This is the team that acquired players to get better so that they wouldn’t finish last and instead finished third last and ended up only trading away Scott Neidermayer rather than Eric Lindros. The team that gave away Coulture, Luongo, Rask, Seguin and the list just goes on and on.
So, if you combine the impatience of the franchise with the overall horrible drafting ability, what you get is another year of a team destined to draft around 15th. If I can just leave you with one final thought it is this: This team, which would clearly be the best in the NHL by approximately one mile, is still in way better cap position than the current real life counterparts, even though they’d still need to add a back-up goalie and a fourth line.
If only my Dad had liked a different team.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.