Over the last little while there have been a variety of articles focused on whether the Toronto Maple Leafs will be best served not playing hockey this season. As the lockout rages on into absolutely ridiculous new areas, writers starved for content – I mean how much can people really talk about the Marlies? It creates a dangerous precedent – have turned their attention from the micro to the macro when it comes to the blue and white. Personally I have not agreed with anything I’ve seen written about why it would be best for the Leafs to not hit the ice in 2012-13. In reality though, I do believe that both the fortunes of the blue and white and Brian Burke would be best served by the lockout wiping out the season entirely. Allow me to elaborate.
The lockout has caused many different reactions by fans. I’ve seen outrage, disgust, depression, frustration and fear. While all reactions are certainly valid, I tend to offer indifference to the proceedings. This lockout will inevitably end. My opinions or feelings are irrelevant to both the NHL and NHLPA primarily because the minute they announce an agreement I – like most fans reading this – will wholeheartedly become immersed once again in the game we love. Therefore, in the meantime – while negotiations sputter and rhetoric kicks into high gear – I will occupy my time with everything but the NHL. For the Leafs though the lockout may very well turn out to be a huge blessing in disguise. Should the lockout last the entire season it is only logical – although logic and the NHL don’t often go together – to assume that the 2013 NHL entry draft will follow the same formula that the 2004 draft used. Based on that formula the Leafs would be one of six teams – along with Calgary, Minnesota, Dallas, Winnipeg and Columbus – with the best odds at landing the 1st overall pick.
The top pick this summer is expected to be franchise centre Nathan Mackinnon. While the Mackinnon-Sidney Crosby comparisons are certainly lofty – those comparisons are due mostly to geographical similarities – there is no doubting that the 17 year old is as elite and can’t miss a prospect as Crosby, Tavares and Stamkos were heading into their respective drafts. Mackinnon is the exact type of franchise altering ingredient that Burke’s team lacks. Should he fall into their lap then a full season without hockey would be definitely a worthy sacrifice for the long suffering supporters of the Leafs. Shit, haven’t we been sacrificing seasons since 2004?
When watching those highlights keep in mind that they are of Mackinnon as a 16 year old in the QMJHL.
Of course being one of six teams with the best odds at landing Mackinnon doesn’t necessarily mean that the Leafs will be awarded said pick. However, would it not make sense for Gary Bettman to somehow gift Mackinnon to the Leafs? There are a couple of financial considerations that lead one to think it will happen. First off having the new Leafs’ owners – Bell and Rogers – standing idly by as they lose more revenue than any other owner in the NHL is not a great way to begin their affiliation with Bettman’s league. Secondly, as most people assume, it is only a matter of time that a second franchise finds its way into southern Ontario, further alienating the multimedia conglomerates. Needless to say a second team will certainly effect Bell and Rogers’ bottom line. Yet would the new Leafs’ owners be somehow appeased through these financial difficulties by possessing a player that could not only lead to glory on the ice, but be a marketing teams wet dream off it? Of course Bettman would never fix a draft lottery following a lockout, right?
The other benefit that I see emerging from a full season lockout would be a bonus year for Burke’s team to grow without the Leafs GM being under the media pressure to achieve results on the ice. Yes, not making the playoffs has been disappointing, but I do not place the blame for that all on Burke’s shoulders. Of course had he acquired a top level goaltender then this squad would have definitely been playing games last spring, however one does not know what the price would have been to acquire said goalkeeper. I for one am fine with Morgan Rielly and whatever pieces – both on the present or on the future roster – not dealt in order to get a stop gap in net. The common perception is that if there was – or is – hockey this season then Burke’s fate in Toronto rested with whether the club made the playoffs or not. While many fans are critical of the current Leafs boss, I am a believer in what he has slowly been building in this town. I feel that with the upcoming financial flexibility and young pieces Burke has carefully put together that the re-emergence of the blue and white is on the horizon. Perhaps 2012-13 isn’t the year for that success, but 2013-14 seems right. While Burke has claimed he would not make desperate trades that jeopardize the long term future just for some immediate results, one does not know how an individual will react when his job is on the line. Therefore a full season away from hockey would allow Kessel, Reimer, Rielly, Kadri, Gunnarsson, Kulemin, Gardiner, Colborne and so forth some extra time to develop without the pressure to succeed in order for the GM to maintain employment. It just wouldn’t be right to have Burke and CO build this organization up from the rubble it was in and not be here to enjoy the accolades that come with the pending results.
What I recommend to the readers is to broaden your horizons in the meantime. Immerse yourself in some great literature, check out the great art shows or live music that is constantly taking place in our fine city. Learn how to cook or take some business classes. In the end the Leafs will be playing again and while being away from NHL hockey for a year may seem like a form of torture, it is always darkest before the dawn and I certainly see the sun coming up soon for the Toronto Maple Leafs.