The Leafs Go-For-Broke Theory


TORONTO (Mar. 27) — I was in the north part of this city on Thursday with a friend — a self–made, well-to–do man involved in sports who has a close relative playing elsewhere in the National Hockey League.

Once we began chatting about the Toronto Maple Leafs, my friend quickly lost his mind — not at all unusual for a tortured devotee of the Blue and White. At least, that was my initial thought. Then, I listened a bit closer and his delirium started to make sense; perhaps an oxymoron, but also symptomatic of general Maple Leafs hysteria. “Look at where the Leafs are now,” said my pal in a moment of relative clarity. “The team has to do everything in its power to land Mike Babcock [as coach] and to maximize the potential of drafting Connor McDavid. There’s nothing left to be conservative about; this is absolute rock bottom. It’s the perfect time to go for broke within Brendan Shanahan’s framework.”

Hmmm. Yet another contradiction — or so it seemed.



Brendan Shanahan and “go for broke” are mutually exclusive terms given the Maple Leaf president’s apparent strategy of short–term pain for long–term gain. There is nothing at all unorthodox about a team in the NHL patiently building through the draft; it happens frequently with clubs located outside of Toronto. How, then, could a team in this city take it slowly and frantically at the same time. Back to my friend:

“Connor McDavid doesn’t want to go to Buffalo. He doesn’t want Edmonton or Phoenix either (Raleigh, N.C. wasn’t mentioned). And, there’s no way the league wants McDavid in a small market. If I’m Shanahan, I call up the Sabres [20% “favorite” right now to win the draft lottery]. I tell [GM Tim Murray] ‘I’ll give you Phil Kessel and pay half his salary. Take two other players not named Morgan Rielly off my team and and my first choice in the draft. Then, give me your No. 1 pick.’

“It’s not that huge a gamble for Buffalo, which still has an 80% chance of losing the draft lottery. They get three players from the Leafs and one of the top four picks this summer. If Toronto somehow wins the lottery, Buffalo gets McDavid and the three players. Either way, the Sabres draft a mega–prospect. It’s more of a gamble for the Maple Leafs but what really is there to lose? I’d give up anyone on the team right now. It’s an absolute disgrace. If I’m Shanahan, I would do anything imaginable to make a trade for the percentage–odds of landing McDavid in the draft.”

Okay. Now, what about Babcock?

“That’s the second part,” continued my friend. “Sure, Babcock can stay in Detroit or go to San Jose [if the Sharks make a coaching change]. But, who the hell’s gonna build a statue of him in northern California if he wins the Stanley Cup? Or, in Boston — where it’s been done recently? The only place for Babcock is Toronto. Winning here might be the biggest challenge in professional sports right now. But, it also offers the greatest reward. Babcock has already done it all — a Stanley Cup; Olympic gold medals. What does he need San Jose for? He wants to set the pay standard for future coaches. If I’m him, I say to Shanahan, ‘Tell your owners to give me five years and $30 million. And, to stay the hell out of our way. You and I work together on acquiring players and the building blocks for a championship team. Maybe we start with McDavid. If given the mandate, we can get it done. Do that and I’m your man.’

“The Maple Leafs should be all over this guy.”



So, is my friend on the wrong medication or the right track for a Leafs fan of his vintage? Mid–50’s. Seven years old the night George Armstrong hoisted the 1967 Stanley Cup. It may, in fact, be the right time for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to go conservatively crazy. Babcock would cost the company cash — in which it swims. A best chance for McDavid, according to my friend’s idea, would remove three players from the current Maple Leafs roster. Can’t imagine tears being shed over that. Maybe Kessel would show some off–season commitment elsewhere. He clearly had no desire to do it here, even after signing for $10 million.

And, really… what isn’t worth a shot in this hockey town?                  


More from the Berger Vault. Today, a unique set of black–and–white cut–outs I purchased at a sports collectors’ show some 20 years ago.

I found information about the set on–line:

“These were free! Sort of. In order to get your 1965-66 Coca–Cola hockey cards, you had to drink a lot of Coke products. In fact, just to get one team set of 18 cards, you had to collect ten bottle caps from Coca–Cola or Sprite that had the desired team on the cap liner. You then mailed in the cap liners and Coca–Cola mailed you back a team set of 18 cards. The cards were all connected in a row and were perforated for easy separation. To get the full set of 108 cards (six teams x 18 cards), a young fella would have to down at least 60 Cokes or Sprites. That, my friends, is a heaping of sugar just to get some cards that were much lower grade than Topps. Each team set of 18 came with an additional 19th card that you mailed back into Coca–Cola to receive your album.”


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5 comments on “The Leafs Go-For-Broke Theory

  1. The Leafs beat Ottawa last night, just when Edmonton and Arizona were getting close, now they will probably pick anywhere from 4th to 6th. I think there looking at Ken Strong!

  2. I agree. That’s where the logic breaks down. In following this approach the Sabres also give up Eichel. No go. Also, bringing in Babcock at the beginning of a rebuild is a mistake in Toronto. It ramps of the media and fan expectations to a counterproductive level and it likely means an extra 10-15 points a year when you want to be finishing at the bottom. Babcock would be a DUMB move. As stupid as the fans cheering for Leaf wins now!!! I just don’t get these fans!

  3. Wouldn’t the deal be better “after” it was decided who picks first…
    Of course, my first reaction is…the Leaf management would find some way to screw this up…
    but I am all for sending Kessel to Buffalo or even better, Arizona…
    I didn’t remember Bernie Parent playing for Boston…
    I do remember the Leaf tandem when I did Faceoff…Parent & Plante ! they made the playoffs that year…Sittler was a rookie (1971)

  4. All you have to ask yourself is this…would you do that trade if you were in charge of making transactions for your team?
    I’m sure that the resounding answer would be “no”.
    Put it this way, any “generational” talent absolutely requires a supporting cast. It is going to take a hell of a lot more than McDavid to bring a championship to any team. Obviously, he would be a beautiful piece to start, but giving up a “king’s ransom” for him would be detrimental to the team doing it.
    If we draft Strome or Hanifin AND add the assets from dealing Kessel/Phaneuf (or both), we are definitely headed in the correct direction. Rielly, Nylander, and if we keep Kadri, are pretty decent pieces to begin.
    Don’t get me wrong. I would LOVE to acquire McDavid, but not at a cost that sets us further back.
    It is essential that patience is key for MLSE AND for all of us fans. This is what we have been waiting for and this is what we want. The organization has to be methodical from here on in (yes, I understand the hilarity of saying that) and really has to stay the course.
    These are uncharted waters for all of us. Hopefully trying something truly different will provide us with continuity, as far as icing a consistently competitive and entertaining team goes.

  5. Howard, tell your friend his scenario re trading with Buffalo might have been plausible if only the 20 percent chance of Sabres getting McDavid were involved. However, what’s missing from his calculation is the 100 percent chance of Sabres landing McDavid or Eichel with their No. 1 pick.

    Shanahan would be better off asking Arizona or Edmonton if they’d like that Kessel-plus-two deal; since neither is guaranteed of getting that McDavid/Eichel quinella, maybe they’d do a trade.

    As for Sabres, forget about it — down here in Bflo we’re keen on seeing McDavid or Eichel in blue and gold, and whichever one it is leading us to glory as our new Gil Perreault.

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