Same ol’ Leafs.
The NHL draft was held this past weekend in Vancouver, and the Toronto Maple Leafs did not participate in the first round. Maple Leaf fans were reminded of years past when they would be spectators on the first day due to trades. And although this year the Leafs didn’t have a first round pick due to a trade, it was for a useful piece still on the roster in defenseman Jake Muzzin.
BUT this Leafs management group has learned from their past mistakes about trading draft picks away, haven’t they? They can look at their own roster and see that their current success has been built through the draft. When was the last time, if ever, did a Leaf team have six of their *own* first-round drafted and developed players playing on the roster at the same time? (Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Rielly, Kadri and Gauthier).
Then the announcement of a trade on the second day of the draft reminded Leafs fans again that perhaps lessons have not been learned. Perhaps demands for success are pressuring the Leafs management, allowing them to make ill-advised trades involving draft picks? The Leafs traded their 2020 first rounder to Carolina for cap relief in the Patrick Marleau trade. Two years in a row without a first round pic? Yikes.
Many optimistic Leaf fans would tell you that this is okay, we have plenty of youth on the roster now, that first round picks are a luxury and no longer a requirement. That type of thinking would be dangerously wrong if you want your team to have long-term success, year after year, decade after decade.
While the Leafs are blessed NOW with plenty of young talent on the roster, NOW is also the time to stockpile in the system for long-term growth as a franchise. A constant conveyor belt of talent from juniors on through the farm system to the roster is required with later first round picks; a 3-5 year process that we are witnessing with Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.
GM Kyle Dubas brags that he has surrounded himself with “Salary Cap Experts” in Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman, and oddly enough their only logical solution was to trade a first round selection along with Marleau for cap relief?!? And even if the Marleau contract was one that previous GM Lou Lamoriello completed, this is poor foresight and planning on Dubas. Giving up a first rounder to cover up a mistake on the final year of Marleau’s contract lacks imagination and is an embarrassment.
When Brendan Shanahan started with the Leafs, he preached that the Toronto franchise needed to be built through the draft…perhaps they need to revisit the Shan-a-plan to keep this franchise on track for generational success.