Monday, March 19, 2012

Quick Hits: Winning, Tanking, and Progress

What do we want?

Michael Langlois over at Vintage Leaf Memories tackled exactly this question on Sunday, asking if Leaf fans would rather have a lottery pick or a playoff berth.  Six short weeks ago, we were all excited at the prospect of playing meaningful hockey down the stretch and at certain points even looked to be in the driver's seat for playoff positioning.

A week ago, we found ourselves at the tail end of a fall so precipitous that a lottery pick was almost expected.  After reeling off back-to-back wins though, we find ourselves caught in the middle of two tolerable outcomes; hockey's dead-space. 

I've heard a lot of people say that no matter what the outcome is for the Leafs that we as fans will find a way to justify why it's a good thing.  The truth is, there are good things that can be pulled out of any scenario.  Making the playoffs in any capacity would be a clear positive for the franchise and would provide some much needed playoff experience to a young core of players.  Getting a lottery pick is an opportunity to add a true blue chip talent to our prospect pool.  Finishing the season strong while still missing the playoffs would be a sign of progress under the new coach and would provide some confidence for the team heading into next season.

Each of these scenarios also carries with it some negatives as well.  Tanking could mean a losing culture.  Getting crushed in the playoffs would mean a worse pick and possible confidence issues heading into the next season.  Finishing in the middle means a so-so pick and no playoff experience.

I suppose my point here is that no matter what happens, things aren't all bad.  Now that the playoffs are all but a mathematical impossibility, my preference would be to see the team land in the lottery but, while I feel this is the best of the two remaining outcomes, I also understand that it isn't without its risks.

Now for the hits;

1.  With the Sarnia - London game televised on Sportsnet Friday night, I'm sure I'm not the only Leaf fan who was concerned when Alex Galchenyuk went down with an apparent shoulder injury.  This kid seems like the guy that all of Leaf Nation has their collective eyes on barring the Leafs vaulting into a top-2 or 3 selection.

2.  I find myself torn between hoping that the Knights have a long playoff run or wanting to see them bounced early to have McKegg skate with the Marlies in the AHL playoffs.  Would love to see him get some PP time with Kadri before the latter makes the jump to the NHL.

3.  Had a twitter conversation today with Steady Zetty about Cody Franson and the Leafs defense.  Seems like Franson is still the odd man out under Carlyle despite what I would consider to be generally strong (though somewhat inconsistent) play.   Too many puck-movers on defense and it leaves us scratching our heads once again on what the plan is for the team's blueline ever since the Liles extension.

4.  Clarke MacArthur has looked pretty good in Lupul's spot on the first line.  If you weren't sold on MacArthur being a top-six forward heading into this season, you've probably changed your mind over the past couple of months.

5.  Just when you thought Mikhail Grabovski couldn't be any more awesome, he fights Chris Neil.  Then he takes it a step further in an interview and says Chris Neil is the type of dirty player who "upsets" him.  If these two teams ever meet in the playoffs, Grabovski would become an instant Legend in the Battle of Ontario.

6.  After Carlyle spent the first few games of his tenure rolling with Gustavsson, it seems like Reimer has retaken the reigns in goal.  Starting three of the last four and slated to start tonight's game, we seem to have the old Optimus Reim back.  Sure hope Gustavsson sees some more time in net down the stretch though as I'm fairly convinced that he's our best shot at a lottery pick.

7.  I wonder what the discussion was when the Leafs chose to bring Carter Ashton up to the NHL.  He's been decent so far and has shown glimpses of the drive-the-net type of player the Leafs hoped they were getting when they acquired him but I feel like his development would be better served by finishing the year in the AHL.

8.  It may just be where the Leafs sit in the standings but the current Entry Draft system feels more and more perverse to me every year.  With the last place team getting a 50:50 shot at first overall and many non-playoff teams having no chance at the pick whatsoever, I'd really like to see the odds re-distributed to be less favourable to teams who are repeatedly abysmal.  Does anyone think there's a chance in hell that Tambellini gets an extension if the draft rules aren't so heavily weighted toward horrible teams?  Didn't think so.  

9.  I'm shocked at how much traction the 'trade Phil Kessel' sect has been getting lately.  The guy is among the league leaders in scoring with no noteworthy linemates and yet people think that dealing him for Nash is somehow a good idea?  There are clear problems with this lineup but Kessel is the last place that I'd start the bloodletting. 

10.  This week on Hockey Night in Canada, Eric Francis suggested that Oilers' management may be content with the premiere assets they've acquired through the draft and that they would consider dealing their pick in this year's draft to round out the lineup.  I'm not sure we'll have the assets to get something done, but I'm positive that Burke will be in touch with the Oilers.  The most consistent characteristic of Burke as a GM throughout his career has been trading up in the draft (Pronger, Sedins, Biggs).

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