BOSTON — Every day the Maple Leafs plop lower in the NHL standings, the smiles grow bigger here in Beantown, both in the Bruins dressing room and the team’s front office.
Maybe you won’t see it in public. These guys, after all, are a professional lot.
But behind closed doors, from president Cam Neely to general manager Peter Chiarelli to rookie Tyler Seguin, they all know and understand that the Maple Leafs’ pain is their gain.
With every excruciating Toronto loss, the Bruins are one step closer to what seemed such a far-fetched possibility several months ago. A lottery pick.
For the second consecutive season.
Seguin, of course, was the kid Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli selected second overall in the 2010 entry draft, using one of the first-round picks acquired from the Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade 14 months ago to grab the talented Brampton native.
That was lottery pick No. 1, courtesy of the Leafs.
Will there be a lottery pick No. 2, once again thanks to the generosity of Toronto general manager Brian Burke?
Even Seguin appeared intrigued by the notion.
If the season ended today, the Bruins would land another lottery pick, since the Leafs entered play Saturday 28th overall in the 30-team league.
“If it happens, it happens,” Seguin said, breaking into a wry grin.
“We’ll see how it works out.”
Thus far, it has worked out well.
All because Burke, rightly or wrongly, believed so strongly in Phil Kessel.
When Burke coughed up first-round picks in 2010 and 2011 plus a second-round selection in order to snag Kessel, it never entered his mind his Leafs would finish in the bottom five of the 2009-10 standings.
That being the case, he must be in a state of shock to find his team dwelling among the bottom feeders for a second-consecutive season.
Even Chiarelli could not have predicted this.
“I felt (the 2010 selection) might be a Top 10 pick, but to have it end up No. 2, well, it worked out well for us,” Chiarelli admitted during an interview at the Bruins’ rookie camp back in September.
“I know Burkie didn’t think at the time of the trade it would end up being a Top 10.”
Chiarelli expected better times for the Leafs this season.
“Burkie did a nice job over the summer,” Chiarelli continued. “They are an improved team, one that is moving up.”
Before there is a city-wide panic, keep a couple of factors in mind.
First off, let’s see if the ship can be righted once Dion Phaneuf and Colby Armstrong, two significant pieces of the Leaf roster, return from injury. Secondly, the Leafs still have 58 games remaining, so the majority of the season has yet to play itself out.
At the same time, there is plenty of reason for angst.
The special teams are poor again. The offence is tied with the lowly New York Islanders for the fewest goals in the league with 51.
And opponents already have posted six shutouts against them, a pace that would see the team blanked about 20 times over an 82-game schedule.
When Burke decided to ship out those cache of picks for Kessel, he believed the kid’s natural goal-scoring ability would overshadow the gains that could be made through the draft.
But that’s a tough sell in Toronto right now, especially in a week where Air Canada Centre patrons:
a) watched 2009 first-overall pick Steven Stamkos help Tampa overcome a 3-1 third-period deficit to beat Toronto 4-3 in overtime Tuesday.
b) saw 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall score twice in a 5-0 Edmonton Oilers drubbing of the Leafs Thursday.
c) grit their teeth as Seguin, the man who might have been a Leaf, makes his first ACC appearance when the Bruins visit Saturday.
Draft schmaft? Not quite.
Meanwhile, even those impressed with Kessel’s raw skill are concerned with his inconsistency right now.
Ever since Bruins fans serenaded him with chants of “Thank you Kessel” in a 2-0 loss at the TD Garden on Oct. 28, he has compiled just three goals and two assists in the 15 games leading up to Saturday’s showdown against his former team.
In his seven games against the Bruins since ‘The Trade’, Kessel has yet to score.
In his only career outing versus the Leafs, Seguin scored. Ouch.
Kessel needs more talent around him, sure.
But if the deal that brought him to Toronto ends up landing the Bruins lottery picks in back-to-back drafts, it will be hard for anyone — even Burke — to justify the trade.
Can you say “ potential disaster?”