On the eve of the 2012 draft, there are more than a few Maple Leafs fans uncomfortable enough to make you think they’re wearing underwear made of fire ants.
Given Toronto’s history of draft-time maneuvers, they’re absolutely right to feel that way. This, after all, is the time of year the franchise has made some of the more hideous transactions in recent memory. (Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala, anyone? Barf bags and decades of psychotherapy, anyone?)
This year, the anxiety has increased for Toronto supporters and not simply due to the increasing amount of pressure on GM Brian Burke to get his team into the playoffs. With the No. 5 pick and varying opinions on how deep the pool of elite prospects actually is, some Leafs fans are clamoring for Burke to trade up and ensure he lands a high-impact youngster.
That would be the worst thing Burke could do. He needs to shake off all temptations to lunge at the quick fix. Standing pat with the fifth pick is still going to result in the Leafs selecting a player who’ll be able to contribute significantly down the line. (Remember, I said down the line. Keep repeating those three words to your overzealous Leafs friends and you actually qualify for a community service award.)
If you listen to the pre-draft chatter – and whatever you do, don’t take all of it as gospel, lest you turn into the hockey equivalent of a Comic-Con nerdster – there’s a real sense of fluidity in terms of the selection order. Dynamic Russian right winger Nail Yakupov is the consensus top pick and for my money, at least, I still think Edmonton winds up taking him at No. 1. But after that, all bets appear to be off.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders have their selections before Toronto and no matter which players those three teams select, there’s not a gigantic drop-off in quality.
For argument’s sake, let’s say the Jackets take NHL-ready defenseman Ryan Murray with the second pick, the Canadiens go for center Alex Galchenyuk and the Islanders grab elite Swedish pivot Filip Forsberg. That would leave Burke with a number of tantalizing options. He could take fast-falling Russian center Mikhail Grigorenko or 6-foot-3 Czech center Radek Faksa. Or he could select fast-rising defenseman Griffin Reinhart or one of fellow blueliners Matt Dumba, Morgan Rielly or Jacob Trouba.
Now, some of you will read that and scream, “But the Leafs already have enough defensemen! They need help at forward the most!” That is true in the bigger picture, but it’s also true that (a) Toronto needs all the help it can get in all areas and (b) building up a strong collection of defensive prospects will eventually put Burke into position to move one of them and command a strong trade package in return. (And that’s to say nothing of the possibility the Oilers, Blue Jackets and Islanders deviate from accepted draft rankings and allow a Murray, Forsberg or Galchenyuk to drop into Toronto’s lap.)
The naked truth is, the Leafs aren’t close to winning a Stanley Cup and likely won’t be for at least a few more years. If Burke deals an asset or two to move up a couple spots in the draft, he slows the process in the same way he slowed it with previous fast-track attempts.
Don’t get me wrong –Burke has to be one of the more active GMs this summer on the trade market to improve Toronto’s fortunes in a hurry. But wheeling and dealing and playing with the future on draft day should be off-limits in a big way for him and his fellow Leaf architects.
Burke is going to get a great player at the fifth overall slot. Getting greedy and overanxious is part of the problem that leaves Leafs fans embittered over what might have been, if only some patient management figure was around to offer a Frankie Goes to Hollywood-like, “relax, don’t do it.”
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