TORONTO (May 2) — Shocking, wasn’t it, that Brendan Shanahan refused to reveal the Maple Leafs’ plan after winning the draft lottery on Saturday? The same Shanahan who hired a general manager that wouldn’t confirm the chill of an arctic gale. It is Lou Lamoriello’s operative that guides the flow of information in Leaf Land. And, I suspect 60–year–old men have better “flow” in the middle of the night.
Undoubtedly, Lamoriello will be inundated with trade proposals between now and the first round of the 2016 draft in Buffalo, June 24. You would think Arizona might be involved, given the birthplace (Scottsdale) of consensus No. 1 pick Auston Matthews. The Cuy–yotes would likely thrive from any peripheral sales–pitch; somehow acquiring the Leafs’ opening draft salvo might spark unprecedented intrigue toward hockey in the greater Phoenix area. Therefore — and perhaps sooner than later — Coyotes’ acting GM Chris O’Hearn (who replaced Don Maloney, Apr. 11) will tease Lamoriello with top–prospect Christian Dvorak and the No. 7 slot in the opening round. Dvorak, selected 58th overall in 2014, just scored 52 goals in 59 games for London of the Ontario Hockey League. He has 10 goals and 26 points in 14 playoff games as the Knights prepare to clash with Niagara for the OHL championship (beginning Thursday in London).
Young Christian, for those unaware, has damaged opponents while skating on the port–side of Mitch Marner — Toronto’s No. 1 gem from last summer’s NHL conscription. The junior phenoms have thus far combined (regular season and playoffs) for 116 goals and 301 points in 2015–16. Graduating such chemistry and production to the NHL could be rather inviting for Lamoriello. If Arizona tossed in blue–liner Oliver Ekman–Larsson, Loquacious Lou might even pull the trigger. But, that’s for another time.
(NOTE: Dvorak also played with Max Domi in London. So, maybe the Coyotes stand pat).
CHRISTIAN DVORAK (10) AND MITCH MARNER (93) FLANK MAX DOMI IN PHOTO TAKEN MAR. 20, 2015.
As of now, there’s little question the Leafs will call Matthews’ name if still in possession of the No. 1 slot at First Niagara Center. Were they convinced of the plan, even Lamoriello might bow to economic encumbrance and announce it to the world. Such a move would enable Leaf retailers to stitch No. 34 and “MATTHEWS” to the rear of a Toronto jersey. At the moment, it would have to be the club’s alternate design (the 1967–to–1970 blue uniform worn periodically since 2011–12), given the club has yet to unveil its new primary look for next year. To commemorate their Centennial season, the Leafs will wear (and sell) up to half–a–dozen replica jerseys from their past — all of them bearing the Matthews’ brand. If the club is settled on the Phoenix Flash as No. 1 pick, wouldn’t it be economically sound to make a grand, combined announcement of uniforms–and–player well before the draft? As did the Oilers with Connor McDavid last year; the Sabres with Jack Eichel; the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and the Capitals Alex Ovechkin in 2005?
This hockey–crazed region went to yet another level on Saturday after the lottery win. One can barely imagine the untold millions Leafs are draining with every hour they refuse to unveil their draft plan and Centennial jerseys. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t yet truly convinced of calling Matthews’ name in Buffalo. If so, it’s a strategic move and must be accepted. But, if I’m among any of the top dogs at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — those that have bled otherworldly amounts of cash without playoff dates at Air Canada Centre in 10 of the past 11 springs — I might “encourage” Shanahan and Lamoriello to make a call on Matthews. And, quickly, if they are, in fact, determined to welcome the 2016 top prospect into the fold.
LEAFS HAVE A TERRIFIC NEW LOGO. TIME, PERHAPS, TO UNVEIL THE JERSEY(S) IT WILL GRACE.
As of now, the uniform announcement is scheduled for Buffalo, coinciding with the draft. There are, however, 55 days and nights until June 24. So, go ahead and do the potential–sales math.
Preferably with a calculator that has many decimal–points.
FURTHER TO SUNDAY: While the Leafs were accumulating irrelevant points through the middle of March, I wrote several blogs here wondering about their strategy to elevate top players from the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies. There was nothing left to accomplish in the season but to finish dead–last in the overall standings and derive the best odds of winning the draft lottery. Yes, the Leafs had to fill holes created by the prudent off–loading of such veteran skaters as Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling and Daniel Winnik, but it could have been done by promoting second and third–tier AHLers. After a 6–2–1 streak in nine games began to “threaten” 30th place, the club returned to the Marlies Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman — both of whom had been effective in their big–league debuts. Even so, it required a regulation loss in the season finale at Newark to solidify Toronto’s spot in the NHL basement.
Results of the draft lottery proved how fortunate the Maple Leafs were.
The 29th–place club, with the second–highest odds (13.5%) of winning, fell three positions — to fourth overall. With just two more points in the standings, that club would have been the Leafs. Not only would Toronto have tumbled out of the No. 1 slot, but EDMONTON WOULD HAVE WON THE LOTTERY AGAIN… for the fifth time in seven years. Other than Montreal moving up from ninth to first — the Canadiens had a 5% chance — nothing could have driven Maple Leaf fans closer to the edge. It’s difficult even to imagine the outcry in chat–rooms and on social media today had this materialized. The Leafs would have been upbraided from every angle for absurdly climbing one rung in the standings when all else was lost.
I pointed this out in my Sunday blog (http://bit.ly/23gDbWG).
Toronto hockey rooters reacted impudently.
“Hey, it didn’t happen… why go there? Just be happy,” was the general tone. True enough.
But, trust me, that tone came within a razor’s edge of being profoundly different.
JOHN AND PIERRE: What a pleasure it was to watch Game 2 of the St. Louis/Dallas Western Conference semifinal on Sunday afternoon. The Blues prevailed, 4–3, midway through the first overtime period on a powerplay goal by captain David Backes to even the best–of–seven series. Most enjoyable was listening to a couple of long–time friends call the game on the full NBC network. John Forslund and Pierre McGuire formed a superb tandem — one in the broadcast booth at American Airlines Center; the other between the benches at ice level. Forslund has been the TV voice of the Carolina Hurricanes since 1995, when the franchise was still known as the Hartford Whalers. You’d be hard–pressed to find a nicer, more–grounded individual (among many) in all of hockey media. McGuire, of course, is… well, McGuire. No one analyzes a game with more energy and scope of knowledge. I’m proud to know each of them.
JOHN FORSLUND (ABOVE) CALLED SUNDAY’S GAME FOR NBC. PIERRE McGUIRE COLLARED DAVID BACKES (BELOW) FOR AN INTERVIEW AFTER HIS OVERTIME–WINNING TALLY. NBC IMAGES
CRAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Yup, Leaf fans, as of roughly 10:30 tonight, 49 years will have passed since George Armstrong lifted the last Stanley Cup for the franchise. May 2, 1967 isn’t quite Nov. 22, 1963 or Sep. 11, 2001 — thankfully, no one died — but it continues to ring ominously as the decades roll by. Barring a miracle, the Maple Leafs will hit the half–century mark a year from today. After that, bets are off. If the club welcomes Auston Matthews; graduates William Nylander (full time) and Mitch Marner; acquires a blue–line “horse”, and — most importantly — a legitimate, front–line goalie, the longest Stanley Cup drought could soon be threatened. The club is moving in the right direction. And doing it, for the most part, splendidly.
GEORGE ARMSTRONG CRADLES THE STANLEY CUP AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS 49 YEARS AGO TONIGHT.
RAPTORS HOLD ON: Capping off a wonderful weekend for local sports fans, the NBA Toronto Raptors defeated the Indiana Pacers Sunday night at Air Canada Centre in Game 7 of their opening–round playoff series. It was the first best–of–seven triumph for the Raptors in their 21–season history and first playoff–series win since 2001. Typically, it evolved with late drama. After the home team built a 16–point lead in the fourth quarter, the capacity crowd watched nervously as Indiana went on a 17–4 run and closed the gap to three points in the final minute. But, a poorly–executed play by the Pacers sealed the match and the Raptors sent their fans home deliriously. Next up, the Miami Heat in Round 2 with Game 1, here, Tuesday.
AS SEEN ON SPORTSNET (ABOVE), AIR CANADA CENTRE AT THE FINAL BUZZER. DeMAR DeROZAN ENVELOPS HIS SON IN A HUG (BELOW) WHILE ERIC SMITH INTERVIEWS A RELIEVED KYLE LOWRY.