Leafs tank? Perish the thought
Players are paid to win, not lose
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle barks instructions from behind the bench during a game against the Bruins at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 6, 2012. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)
TORONTO - Of the sometimes ridiculous notions that are put forth on radio call-in shows by fans of the Maple Leafs — if not some hosts themselves — few are as silly as the idea that the club tanks the remaining 15 games in order to move up in the 2012 entry draft.
It’s no “trade Dmitri Khristich for Wayne Gretzky,” but it’s close.
“Just the pride in our room, you want to finish as high as we can here and do the best job we can,” winger Clarke MacArthur said after a long and up-tempo practice on Friday at the MasterCard Centre.
“I don’t think any team in their right mind would tank a season and try to get a higher draft pick. I don’t see how that is going to help us, you know, in the immediate future.”
Could you imagine if the Leafs did that and looked at some hot-shot kid in training camp next September and said: ‘Hey, we deliberately let up last season so we could draft you?’ No pressure, eh?
There’s no guarantee that simply by drafting with the first pick, or near it, that Stanley Cup success will be the result. Recently, it worked for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks, but not for the Washington Capitals or the Edmonton Oilers, a team that always seems to be rebuilding.
It’s not in the makeup of a professional hockey player to deliberately lose games. You would be asking them to go hard against the grain of everything they have been taught since they began playing high-level hockey.
The Leafs have been scuttling along for a month, and let’s be truthful, they have been losing games honestly, to the tune of 12 of their past 14. They could wind up in the top five of the draft if they continue to lose as much as they have been, and from there, the lottery might propel them to the first overall pick.
But to deliberately Fail for Nail, as in Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov? Not brilliant.
Coach Randy Carlyle’s main interest lies in having his players focus only on the next game, and on Saturday it’s the Philadelphia Flyers dropping in to the Air Canada Centre. In the larger picture, of course, it’s about improving each time out and regaining the confidence that eroded so stunningly fast in Ron Wilson’s last month behind the bench.
If anything, Leafs fans should be happy that general manager Brian Burke made the coaching change when he did. Carlyle will have had 18 games by the end of the regular season to plant seeds throughout the lineup. The alternative could have been that the Leafs might have slid deeper into a malaise under Wilson, and an incoming coach would have had a stickier mess to clean up starting at training camp in September. In that environment, who’s to say a higher draft pick would make a defined impact? And if the Leafs manage to win some games and move up in the standings? That’s where Burke’s vast scouting staff comes in.
The differences under Carlyle have been clear in the past week, as he has been running longer practices and halting everything, sometimes often, when drills are not being done properly. Improve daily, in other words, with winning the sole objective.
“Nobody in this room is tanking,” said defenceman John-Michael Liles, who subtly bristled when the idea was raised. “We have had two tough games and, in the last couple, it was a matter of a couple of mistakes. We are all professionals in here and we have been working hard all year.”
Carlyle has the correct perspective about rolling over on purpose.
“Those are accusations that have existed for a long time, specifically with the lottery and the weighted draft,” he said. “But it’s not in our vocabulary.”