Could the Leafs trade their first overall pick? Might they keep the pick and draft Patrik Laine instead? Does Auston Matthews not want to play in Toronto?
The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the 2016 NHL draft lottery and will pick No. 1 overall for the first time since they nabbed Wendel Clark in 1985. This is good news for the sport, whether you love or hate the Leafs. It's the equivalent of a high-profile player landing with the New York Knicks in basketball. When the Leafs choose what they hope is their next – and dare I say first – real superstar, fans can decide for themselves if that rookie is a hero or villain. It makes for a fascinating story either way.
Auston Matthews is the player most experts expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to draft June 24. He ranks No. 1 in THN's Draft Preview, due out in the next couple weeks, and on virtually every other major publication's prospect list. And yet, rumors have begun flying around social media predicting something other than the Leafs picking Matthews will happen June 24. That smoke is clickbait, and there's no fire to accompany it. Let's extinguish three of the more ridiculous theories circulating in the hockey media landscape at the moment. And, yes, I'm aware that merely discussing them makes this piece clickbait about clickbait. Apologies.
SILLY THEORY #1: THE LEAFS WILL TRADE THE PICK TO THE ARIZONA COYOTES
Fact: Auston Matthews hails from the state of Arizona. Fact: the Coyotes continue to struggle financially. A locally grown superstar would give the franchise someone special to build around. The idea of the Desert Dogs coveting Matthews thus seems plausible.
The Twittersphere has floated theories and polls galore about the Coyotes offering something massive to secure Matthews. I've read defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson's name tossed around. Same goes for left winger Max Domi, who has a London Knights connection with Mark Hunter, the Leafs' director of player personnel, and with Leafs prospect Mitch Marner. Would Dylan Strome, who is THN Future Watch's No. 1 overall prospect, plus Arizona's No. 7 overall pick net Matthews? Or Domi and Christian Dvorak, another Knights standout?
Stop. No. For one, the Leafs have no intention of trading the first overall pick. They would never admit to tanking, but holding their NHL-ready prospects down on a stacked AHL Marlies squad this season all but ensured the rag-tag Leafs would sink to the bottom of the standings and increase their odds of securing the No. 1 overall pick. That was the "pain" coach Mike Babcock promised us. Finding a franchise pillar is the next step in the Leafs rebuild. T'would be a shame to immediately throw the Matthews pick away. General manager Lou Lamoriello told TSN's Mark Masters a trade wasn't on Toronto's radar.
More importantly, the Coyotes would be idiotic to pay the suggested price for Matthews. They already have the NHL's No. 1 prospect crop, as ranked by our scouting panel in Future Watch. The franchise is on the path to winning, and victories put more bums in seats than any star player can. The Coyotes should secure another strong piece, perhaps a D-man like Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev or Jakob Chychrun, with their No. 7 overall pick. That's what they need. They're more than fine at center with Strome and Dvorak to build around.
SILLY THEORY #2: THE LEAFS WILL PASS ON MATTHEWS AT THE PODIUM
Patrik Laine looks more and more each day like he'll be an NHL star. He's a big, imposing goal scorer, a demon on the forecheck, cut from the same cloth as Alex Ovechkin. On the right team with the right center, Laine could be a Rocket Richard Trophy winner multiple times in his career.
Laine just won the Finnish League championship with Tappara and was named playoff MVP. He's generating so much hype that articles have surfaced speculating on whether he should go first overall. In some other recent draft years: quite possibly. But not last year or this year. Last year and this year yielded the franchise centers: Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Matthews.
A commonality among the past 11 Stanley Cup champions: Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Vincent Lecavalier. Each team had an high-end center as its nucleus, and all but Bergeron and Datsyuk were picked in the first round. Matthews' all-around game has drawn comparisons to that of Joe Sakic, another elite No. 1 center who won championships with the team who drafted him.
As good as Laine is, you just don't pass up the opportunity to pick the franchise center. Don't believe the Laine buzz for a second. Toronto will pick Matthews.
SILLY THEORY #3: MATTHEWS DOESN'T WANT TO PLAY IN TORONTO
Social media hummed with talk of Matthews' less-than-enthused reaction upon learning Toronto won the draft lottery:
(a) He is a hockey player. This sport has a culture of modesty, and most players hesitate to show their personalities, especially teenagers still learning how to handle media scrutiny. If Connor McDavid got married tomorrow and you thrust a camera in his face, he'd likely drone on, stone faced, about it being "kinda special." He encouraged Canada's world junior players to stay off social media during the 2016 tournament. It's no shock to see Matthews lacking otherworldly expressiveness. That makes him the norm, not the exception. The P.K. Subbans and Jeremy Roenicks are rare and precious gems.
(b) Matthews is in Russia prepping for the World Championship, where he'll represent Team USA. It was thus the middle of the night at the time of his interview. He told Sportsnet's Darren Millard he wasn't sure if it was 3:00 or 3:30 a.m. Matthews was probably…tired.
(c) If you ignore his stoic facial expression, he said all the right things. In this other interview he did on lottery night with TSN, he called the possibility of playing for the Leafs exciting. He described Toronto as the hockey Mecca.
(d) There was a satellite delay. Ever try talking to a friend overseas? It makes for a lot of awkward pauses and delayed answers. Hard to converse with a good rhythm. The exchange can feel wooden.
(e) Forget the "mixed emotions" sound bite. It has been taken out of context and twisted. Matthews wasn't even referring to Toronto at that moment. He was discussing the lottery in general.
All the Matthews speculation is much ado about nothing at this point. The new Leaf regime isn't dumb enough to pick its podium decision apart, and Matthews likely just wants to play hockey, wherever that may be. He will become a Toronto Maple Leaf June 24.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin