The Toronto Maple Leafs have been attempting to rebuild the right way under the Brendan Shanahan/Lou Lamoriello/Mike Babcock regime and in winning Saturday night’s draft lottery, the most important piece has become available to them.
Somewhere, somehow, some quack-job Toronto Maple Leafs fan found a magic lamp. Or wand. Or puck. Or Punch Imlach’s fedora. Or anything to wish a mystical transformation upon hockey’s most sad-sack franchise.
And all the far-fetched theories or ideas typically reserved for irate late-night radio show callers began to come true.
“Yo, the Leafs should make Brendan Shanahan their president.”
“Yo, the Leafs should hire Mike Babcock as head coach.”
“Yo, the Leafs should trade Phil Kessel.”
“Yo, the Leafs should hire Lou Lamoriello as GM.”
“Yo, the Leafs should trade Dion Phaneuf.”
They all would’ve seemed like typical Toronto-media-constructed fantasies even a few years ago. Instead, they’ve happened. The Shanahan regime continues to slide pieces into place, transforming the Leafs team culture. Assistant GM Kyle Dubas is the franchise’s analytics driver and oversees the powerhouse AHL affiliate Marlies. Lamoriello has instilled the same tight-lipped mentality he used in New Jersey for close to three decades. Director of player personnel Mark Hunter holds the keys to the draft. And Babcock has changed the way this team plays. It spent year after year as one of the worst possession drivers in hockey and jumped to the middle of the pack in his first year as bench boss.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the draft lottery, giving the franchise its first No. 1 pick since 1985 when future captain Wendel Clark was selected.
The Leafs finished the season with the league’s worst record at 29-42-11, giving them a 20 percent chance to win the lottery. It’s the first time since 2010 that a team with the best odds managed to secure the top spot.
This was the first year the top three picks were determined via lottery. The Winnipeg Jets secured the second pick on Saturday night and the Columbus Blue Jackets received the third choice.
Thursday, April 21, marks the 65th anniversary of Bill Barilko scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, which technically means we can commemorate that memory with a senior moment or two.
Back in November, I wrote a feature in the print edition of The Hockey News telling the tale of the Hamilton, Ont., family who claimed it had possession of Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. Harry Donohue was a 16-year-old in attendance at that 1951 game against the Montreal Canadiens and he hopped on the ice after the overtime goal and fished the puck out of the net. Here’s a link to that story entitled Harry’s Puck.
The gist of the feature is the Donohue family were preparing to loan that puck to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 when they found out the Hall already had a puck designated Barilko’s Cup-winning puck. But, as was pointed out in the November story, the Hall of Fame’s Barilko puck was a Spalding-made puck, used in NHL games from 1920 to 1942. The Donohue Barilko puck has an emblem that was used in NHL games from 1950 to 1958, which fits the time period of that seminal moment in hockey history.
While the Toronto Maple Leafs made progress in the first season of their rebuild, they still lack a quality starting goaltender. The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons notes the only reason for Jonathan Bernier’s return next season is the year remaining on his contract. He thinks the Leafs could accelerate their rebuild with an upgrade in the crease.
Finding a good goalie this summer won’t be easy. There are slim pickings via unrestricted free agency, with former Leaf James Reimer the best of the bunch. It’s unlikely they’ll bring him back.
Options are also few in the trade market. Last month, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello scouted Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks.
Andersen, 26, is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’s a year away from UFA eligibility. If the Ducks are committed to John Gibson as their starter, Andersen could be shopped this summer. The Leafs could face competition for his services, as the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes could also come calling. Read more
If you ever wanted an indication of the power Lou Lamoriello wields in the hockey world, it was fully on display this morning. The Toronto Maple Leafs announced new six-year deals for defenseman Morgan Rielly and center Nazem Kadri and no reporter leaked the news. In fact, even after the Leafs revealed the extensions, no reporter had the dollar amount for almost an hour. That’s unprecedented.
Now we know: Rielly gets an average annual value of $5 million and Kadri $4.5 million. So what can we parse from these pacts?
All hail the Frozen Four champs from North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks stomped all over Quinnipiac in the final and while Vancouver pick Brock Boeser has confirmed his return for another campaign, several free agents are drumming up interest now. Boeser’s linemate, Drake Caggiula, helped his cause with two goals in the final, while defenseman Troy Stecher is expected to leave school early for an NHL contract. In the meantime, San Jose won the derby for Lithuanian goalie Mantas Armalis and the Michigan Wolverines lost their two best players to the pro ranks. Read about them and more in our weekly prospect wrap:
While meeting with media Sunday, Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said the future of both Robidas and Lupul is “unknown,” which could mean both veterans are either on the shelf for the remainder of their contracts or not in Toronto’s future plans.
That’s more surprising when it comes to Lupul, 32, who still has two years and $10.5 million remaining on his contract with the Maple Leafs. Lupul has dealt with a number of injuries over the past several seasons and was limited to only 46 games with Toronto this season, but he was still able to contribute 11 goals and 14 points in a middle-six role with the Maple Leafs. Read more