Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just Lose

A simple message to Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and the entire Toronto Maple Leafs organization: Lose. Tank. Throw in the towel. Do anything and everything you can to ensure your team doesn’t earn another point in the standings.

Actually, with a goaltending tandem of Curtis Joseph and Martin Gerber, a dozen third and fourth line forwards, and an overpaid and underwhelming group of defenceman, maybe they’ve done all they can.

With only three meaningless regular season games remaining for the Leafs it’s time for the team to do what they probably should’ve been doing all year long. Namely, losing on purpose. Re-inserting the corpse of Lee Stempniak into the line-up would be a good start.

As of this morning, Toronto is the 24th best team in hockey or the seventh worst, depending on your point of view. Only teams that finish in the bottom five have a mathematical chance of winning the draft lottery and the first overall selection that goes with it because no team can move up more than four places. The New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning are locked into the first three slots but fifth (worst) place is certainly well within reach for the Leafs and they could conceivably still move all the way into fourth.

Here’s how it can happen:

If Atlanta wins two of their last three (WSH, FLA, TB ), Los Angeles wins any of their last three (@EDM, @VAN, SJ), Phoenix wins any of their last three (STL, @SJ, ANA) and the Leafs lose all of their final three (@NJ, BUF, OTT) Toronto would end up 27th and sit in the fourth position going into the lottery.

After four straight seasons without qualifying for the playoffs, the only potential reward for the long-suffering members of Leaf Nation is the possibility of a top draft pick at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. Obtaining a Tavares or a Victor Hedman in the draft would be a huge piece for Toronto to pair with Luke Schenn in the re-building process.


Speaking of Tavares, he and his London Knight teammates are one win away from moving on to the third round of the OHL playoffs and a potential marquee showdown with the Windsor Spitfires. The two teams finished 1-2 in the OHL standings and have been angling toward this match-up all year long.

And as good as Tavares has been this year (breaking the OHL career goal scoring record, turning the World Junior Championship into a personal showcase, and generally living up to the hype like he’s Lebron James) you have to wonder when the Hunter brothers, Dale and Mark, will join him in moving on to the next level.

They purchased the Knights and took over day-to-day operations in 2001 and all they’ve done since is put together the most impressive record in all of junior hockey and built a player development program that continuously pumps out NHL talent.

In addition to Tavares, the list of high caliber players who have sharpened their skills under the tutelage of the Hunters is remarkable…and for the most part, star-studded.

Rick Nash - Columbus Blue Jackets
Corey Perry - Anaheim Ducks
Sam Gagner - Edmonton Oilers
Patrick Kane - Chicago Blackhawks
David Bolland - Chicago Blackhawks
Sergei Kostitsyn - Montreal Canadiens
Brandon Prust - Phoenix Coyotes
Danny Fritsche - Minnesota Wild
Dennis Wideman - Boston Bruins
Dan Girardi - New York Rangers
Mark Methot - Columbus Blue Jackets
Kyle Quincey - Los Angeles Kings
Steve Mason - Columbus Blue Jackets

That group of players would be the backbone to a great NHL roster and speak volumes about the ability of the Hunter brothers as a management team. If I’m Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk or Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz or any other NHL franchise in need of new life, I know what direction I’d be looking in.