TEAM: Toronto Maple Leafs.
Finished with a 29-42-11 record, good for 69 points (nice) and dead last in the NHL. All while watching the "enigmatic" goal scoring winger who was their best player in almost a decade and unceremoniously run out of town for pennies on the dollar win a Stanley Cup! As far as the actual season went, they ran out their string of uninspiring games icing rosters with players you've never heard of, and getting beaten up by teams they really shouldn't.
But, I mean, they did win the lottery and draft a generational talent in Auston Matthews, so it was a great success. Only in Toronto could the worst season in recent history for on-ice results actually turn out to be the best one they've had in forever. That's how sadly dysfunctional this franchise is: being extremely bad is actually the best thing that's ever happened to this team.
Your Head Coach
January Jack Adams candidate Mike Babcock! Babcock enters his second season in Toronto coming off a year where he was indisputably the team's biggest asset on the bench. He has a Stanley Cup ring and two Olympic gold medals to his credit, and now he gets.....Leo Komarov on the first line. But he said there would be pain ahead, which is a thing I think he keeps repeating over and over to himself at night while he tucks in cradling a bottle of Glenlivet. Just listen to this poor, sad man in his own words:
"We guaranteed ourselves a top-four pick," Babcock said. "The future of our organization is very bright. There is still some pain coming. But we’re going to get a lot better very fast.
"I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about (last place). What I do is evaluate the work we have done. I like the attitude of our guys, I like the changes we have made, I like how we are set up to move ahead.
Oh, you poor thing. Don't you just want to give him a hug? I want to give him a hug. Here's a guy who has known nothing but success, and he closes out last season effectively saying "Well, we sucked something fierce, but the boys were real troopers about it!" We've broken him, haven't we?
Your Starting Goaltender
Ohhhhhhhh baby; it's Frederik Andersen time! The Leafs went and traded for a goaltender, then gave him a 5-year extension before even playing a game! I can't think of a way the Leafs doing the whole "trade for a goalie on a California team, then hand him a shiny new contract" could possibly backfire!
The Andersen deal was also basically a 1-for-1 goalie swap, in which the Leafs somehow still: (a) paid the departing goalie's July 1 bonus; and, (b) sent two draft picks to Anaheim. But the Leafs front office is very high on Andersen; they scouted him thoroughly!
When the Ducks visited Toronto in March, Lamoriello even found a discreet spot in the Air Canada Centre to monitor his morning skate routine.
From what they’d learned through scouting and other background research, the management team didn’t think twice about dealing away two picks to get him. It helped that they had put themselves in excellent position to spend that kind of capital given all of the draft choices they’ve been amassing.
By the way, the Leafs won that game 6-5. Andersen had a .769 SV%, allowing 6 goals on 26 shots. That's some good scoutin', Lou!
New Things That Suck
Well, after a year of wooing him, the Leafs failed to land Steven Stamkos. Wait, let me rephrase that: they not only failed, but reeked so hard of desperation that after meeting with the Leafs, Stamkos actually called his agent and begged to stay in Tampa. I don't know what Leafs management did at this meeting, but I can only imagine it went somewhat like this (NSFW).
So, what did they do with that money, you ask? They signed the one-third of Hockey's Best 4th Line that most resembles a cocker spaniel to a 4-year, $10 million deal. Then, they.....wait, they brought back Roman Polak? NOOOOOOO! What are you doing? You were free! You got to enjoy as he got danced around in the postseason and laugh at how it wasn't your team anymore! Why would ever want to go back to that? Per Shanahan:
We know what Roman Polak is. A couple of years ago he was coming to us as a number five or six. Now he’s coming to us as a bit more of a depth guy to support some of our young players, and he understood the role he’s coming into.
So, he's a teacher? What precisely is he teaching these kids? How to blow a tire while skating backwards?! That does not seem like very sound instruction, even for the low, low price of $2.25 million.
Also, they signed Brandon Prust to a PTO, because they decided they needed more team toughness on Twitter.
Things That Still Suck
Say it with me; this fanbase doesn't deserve success because it doesn't want success!
Level with me here. I am a fan of this team. I want them to be successful. But do you really believe that's what most of us want? The problem with Leafs fans is they say they want success, but what they mean is success conditional to it being done the way they want it done. Half of this fanbase are analytics people that are not above rooting for this team to fail simply to be proven right. The other half are "heart and grit" types that want victories through punching. They prioritize grit over skill to match the "blue collar, lunchpail" ethos that can only be embodied by a fanbase of corporate Bay Street drones that haven't met a blue collar worker outside of the guy that services their Fiat.
The truth is that we suck. We're so reactionary and pessimistic that we can't seem to enjoy anything! At all! Ever! This summer, the Leafs drafted a player that may well be the future face of their franchise. Do you know how we celebrated? First, we freaked out that they drafted some big, old dudes in the later rounds. Then, we lost it over speculation that the Leafs thought about signing a player they didn't even sign! Finally, we stressed over Auston Matthews not signing his ELC and walking out on the team; he signed the damn contract in less than a month.
We are the ultimate pessimists. We are the people who could stare at a beautiful sunset and think "eventually, we will all die someday." We really don't deserve to cheer for a team that wins anything because, if we did, we'd still find some way to be miserable about it!
Also, their defense is still as shallow as an above-ground pool, and up front, I've seen more left wingers at a National Review editorial meeting.
What Does Not Suck
Auston Matthews! Also, basically anyone else on this roster born after 1993. They'll still be bad, but a more exciting kind of bad! So, y'know, there's that.