As the Leafs continue to lose games, their probability of acquiring the first overall pick in this year's entry draft remains strong. After losing 4-1 to Florida, Toronto maintains their 9.5% chance of getting upcoming superstar Connor McDavid. Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Pirri highlighted the night for Florida, while Leafs' prospect, Sam Carrick, would provide the hometown crowd with some positive play.
Windsor - March 27, 2015 - “If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right,” or something to that effect. What makes watching Leafs’ games tolerable these days is the idea that the club could hypothetically lose their way into obtaining the first overall pick in this year’s entry draft, which includes eligible players such as Lawson Crouse, Mitchell Marner, and oh yeah, some kid named Connor McDavid.
Leafs’ fans have been dreaming themselves into submission, hoping and praying that the hockey gods may provide some solace to the ‘lost season’ and force the planets into an alignment that sees the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Draft Lottery, and more importantly, the opportunity to bring the incredibly talented McDavid to Toronto. Now there is no way that the Leafs could lose all the way into last place (Buffalo, Arizona, and Edmonton have all done a swell job of occupying the league’s basement); however, the Buds hold a 9.5% chance of getting the first overall pick. You may think a number like that cannot possibly be worth the amount of anxiety and hopefulness being exhibited by fans across the country, but in reality this year’s draft lottery has been refurbished to allow more teams the opportunity to acquire the first overall pick by lessening the percentage of probability of the last place team gaining rights to the pick. In other words, that 9.5% certainly looks promising. In any case, the Maple Leafs are well on their way to maintaining their position as contenders in the McDavid sweepstakes by continuing to lose out as the season comes to a close.
Thursday night action saw the Florida Panthers visit the Air Canada Centre for the final game of their four game set against the Leafs this season. Entering this particular match, the Panthers held a 2-1 game lead over the Leafs, despite losing their previous engagement, a game that witnessed a sideshow of revolving goaltenders due to injuries to Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. After the first period of play, one would expect the game to remain close until the end given the fact that there were very few chances for both teams, as well as there being no goals scored in the period. Jonathan Bernier faced a total of only nine shots during the first.
The second period began with a bang, as the Panthers would score two quick goals. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his thirteenth on the year, while Steven Kampfer would add the insurance goal, marking only his second tally of the season. Both goals appeared to be low percentage shots, something that has plagued Bernier all season, as he has been stricken, at times, with the inability to make saves on shots that should be corralled. The Panthers would add a third to their total thanks to the stick of Brandon Pirri, who earned his nineteenth of the season late in the second period.
The three goals scored would end Bernier’s night in goal for Toronto, as James Reimer would enter the game in relief for the Leafs’ faltering netminder. As he has done in the past, Optimus Reim aided the Leafs’ chances of overcoming the three-goal deficit by not allowing a single goal on the eleven shots he faced, earning a 1.00 save percentage for the evening.
Sam Carrick earned his first NHL career goal midway through the third, an event that provided the hometown crowd with some energy, but more importantly it was an experience that will forever be reserved in the young man’s memory bank. Carrick joined the Leafs’ lineup last Thursday for the third time this season, participating in the last four games for Toronto. Given the energy and grit he provides for the Leafs, it is safe to assume he will finish out the year with the main club. In the event that the Toronto Marlies are fortunate enough to earn a playoff berth, Carrick will provide the Leafs’ farm team with some motivation, as he currently resides as one of the top three goal scorers for the Marlies during playoffs.
Despite winning the majority of faceoffs, earning more turnovers, and out hitting the Panthers, the Leafs succumbed to a 4-1 deficit, allowing Florida to gain ground in the playoff race, as the two points they earned in the win places them three points outside of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs have won only once in their last ten games played, resulting in a 2-10-1 record for the month of March.
If by some miracle the Leafs end up winning the draft lottery, I can assure you that moment will be the first chapter in the book written about the rebuild the Leafs are about to begin. Mark my words, if McDavid makes his NHL debut in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform, the city of Toronto will welcome home Lord Stanley’s Cup in five years. A fan can dream, right?
All kidding aside, the thought of teams tanking in order to better their chances of acquiring a superstar prospect in the upcoming draft has placed a dark cloud over the league this year. With a number of teams sitting with less than subpar records, it is almost an insult to the remaining clubs that remain competitive as the end of the regular season draws near. As a fan of the game, I would like to believe that all owners are doing their best to put out lineups that give their teams the best chance of winning games; however, it is naïve to believe that general managers do not have ulterior motives in the back of their minds. For the sanctity of the game, I would hope that the business that is professional sports would not discourage players from maintaining their eagerness to win games, nor taint their willingness to uphold the purity of the game.