The Toronto Maple Leafs finished with the worst record in the NHL and the League’s lowest point total. This was, of course, by design, as team decided to rid itself of veteran players in attempt to tank the season for a high draft pick.
“We explained to our fans beforehand that we were going to move some players, move some contracts, and we were going to struggle a bit,” explained team president Brendan Shanahan.
It was a tank, and the majority of Maple Leafs fans were behind it, even with the acknowledgement that literally nothing ever goes right for the franchise and neither would the draft lottery. In fact, the new NHL Draft Lottery rules made it more difficult than ever for the worst team in the draft to secure the first overall pick.
“It wasn’t, in my mind, the best year to have three separate lotteries,” Shanahan said. “But the rules were the rules, and there were no complaints on our part.”
So the NHL Draft Lottery commenced on Saturday night before the Washington Capitals’ Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. One by one, the teams with low odds were told they didn’t hit the lottery. The Winnipeg Jets, slated to pick sixth, moved up to the top three.
And then we finally reached the moment Shanahan, the Leafs’ proxy at the live lottery event, was waiting for: Pick No. 4, with the Leafs, Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers -- owners of four of the last six first overall picks and winner of last season's Connor McDavid draw -- still alive.
“That was the lowest that we could go,” said Shanahan.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly turned over the placard.
It was the Oilers’ logo on the back.
The hockey world, sans Edmonton, exhaled, as did Shanahan.
“It had nothing to do with the Oilers, but this was the first time in the evening that it was possible I could see the Leafs logo. That we didn’t made me feel very good,” he said.
The Jackets claimed the third pick. The Leafs were announced as the first overall pick, which sent the viewing party back at Real Sports in Toronto into hysterics, complete with streamers:
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 1, 2016
So the Leafs will likely draft Auston Matthews, the dynamic American center, even though Patrik Laine, the dynamic Finnish winger, is the top selection on many draft boards.
Either way, the Leafs may be getting a franchise player for their rebuild.
“It doesn’t change the timetable, but it helps with plans, for sure,” said Shanahan. “We knew we were going to pick somewhere in the top four, and we knew we were going to get a player that would have an impact. But obviously getting No. 1 certainly helps.”
And strip-mining your team for a season in the hopes of securing that pick certainly helps. So we asked Shanahan: Does drafting first overall validate all the loses, all the frustration? Does it validate the plan?
“I don’t think validated would be the right word, because quite honestly if we ended up with the second, third or fourth overall pick, I still felt that we did what was needed to be done in Toronto,” he said.
“The validation part isn't in winning the lottery, because that's up to fluke [luck]. We’ll feel satisfaction when we’re truly at a point of being a Stanley Cup contending team. It feels good to win the lottery, but I wouldn't go as far as saying it's validation."
As for the lottery itself, it may come as no surprise that Shanahan is a fan of the current format.
“I agree with the concept,” he said. “As far as the optics that it improves around the integrity of the game, I think it’s serving its purpose.”
It certainly did for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
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