TORONTO (Mar. 1) — Let me begin today by emphasizing that I trust Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and the Toronto Maple Leafs hierarchy. It consummated a plan last summer; effectively sold it to the Board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and held firm in a predictably demoralizing season. Overwhelmingly, fans of the hockey club understood the Leafs had to bottom out before attaining legitimate progress.
This strategy unfolded in the past three weeks, as Lamoriello, the veteran general manager, traded roster players Nick Spaling, Shawn Matthias, Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak, James Reimer and Daniel Winnik for a stockpile of draft picks. It served a dual purpose — to horde future components and, unavoidably, weaken the current club. For the second time in six days, the Leafs are dead–last in the 30–team National Hockey League, one point behind the forever–awful Edmonton Oilers. The unspoken Toronto blueprint is squarely on target, with plenty of time (21 games) to establish separation from the 29th–place team. As such, I take issue with the moderate deviation from strategy that prompted Lamoriello and Mike Babcock to elevate top prospects William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen from the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies.
I understand why such moves may be appealing. They enable the Leafs’ brass to have an initial look at their best AHL players while throwing a bone to fans that pay top dollar for dismal return at the Air Canada Centre. And, there were offsetting demotions, including Josh Leivo, who appears to have what you cannot teach — hands that score in the NHL. Moreover, it wasn’t as if Lamoriello promoted the second–comings of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Even with Nylander and Kapanen, the Leafs lost Monday night in regulation time, 2–1, to Tampa Bay. Nonetheless, if an infusion of skill from the Marlies leads to any accumulation of points in the final quarter of the schedule — thereby hindering the best odds of landing the No. 1 draft pick in June — it will neutralize the good work Lamoriello did before the trade deadline.
FRONT PAGE OF TODAY’S TORONTO STAR SIGNALLING LEAF PROMOTIONS FROM THE AHL.
My overwhelming preference would be for Lamoriello to have left his two elite prospects in the AHL through the remainder of this blissfully–lost season (an oxymoron in any other circumstance). The latest Toronto “youth movement” should begin next season, with Leivo, Nylander, Kapanen, goalie Garret Sparks, possibly Mitch Marner, a healthy Connor Brown and perhaps whichever gem the club obtains early in the 2016 draft. Even that could be seen as rushing the “Shanaplan,” which called for a couple or three years of painstaking construction. But, it wouldn’t potentially disrupt the advantageous by–product of finishing at the bottom of the NHL standings, which is clearly a best–case scenario for the Maple Leafs right now.
Why not let the sleeping dog lie?
TELEVISION BLUES: It is probably time for TSN and Sportsnet to re-visit their seven-hour commitment to the NHL trade deadline. What a chore it must have been for producers, hosts and contributors to occupy such time during Monday’s monotonous exercise. Once again, the vast majority of trading occurred well before the deadline. As such, it was hardly a banner day for programming. With the advent of social media — and the effective manner in which NHL “insiders” deploy Twitter — there is no longer a need to vegetate in front of your TV on a work day. Moving forward, a concise, three–hour presentation, beginning at noon Eastern, would amply serve the viewing public and still provide opportunity for broadcasters to break news live on the air during the most active juncture in the process. I’m thinking James Duthie might second my opinion. After seven hours of filling time on Monday, he may have taken a power–nap before hosting three more hours of intermission coverage during TSN’s telecast of the Maple Leafs–Lightning game. Few others could remain alert and effective throughout such a vigorous assignment. July 1 — the advent each year of unrestricted free agency — is also becoming a challenge for the TV types, with NHL clubs tending to lock up their best players before they can test the market. It does excuse a longer telecasting day, as trades can also intervene (the Maple Leafs dealt Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh last July 1). This year, of course, could be the mother–lode of free agent frenzy if Steven Stamkos is available. You can be sure that all the bigwigs at TSN and Sportsnet are praying Stamkos doesn’t re–sign, beforehand, with Tampa Bay.
HOARDING THE HOCKEY NEWS
I had no plan or desire to add to my sports collection… until I received an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Isn’t is always that way?
When an old friend came forth with virtually every issue of The Hockey News dating to January 1964, I told him I’d take some time to carefully consider his overture. Three minutes later, I accepted. You can’t just say “yes” without prolonged and contentious negotiation. As such, sixteen legal–size boxes are now situated behind the love–seat in my apartment. I’m hoping they won’t remain there for long, but I have a chore ahead of me creating space in my locker downstairs. Like everything else, it will get done. Eventually.
As you might imagine — and just to be sure, once again, that it really happened — I found the issue from the last Maple Leafs Stanley Cup victory. More evidence, indeed, of that medieval triumph. It was printed in the May 13, 1967 issue and I thought you might enjoy looking at some of the contents: