Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Only would the Canadian media feed a line like this after the Toronto Maple Leafs continued the purge of their NHL roster with another trade yesterday, "You can label the Toronto Maple Leafs approach to this trade deadline a lot of ways, but tanking isn’t one of them. I prefer smart, aggressive and savvy."
So wrote Sportsnet's Chris Johnston for a piece entitled, Chasing Matthews not behind Leafs trade deadline strategy.
The "Matthews" part of the equation refers, of course, to hockey phenom Auston Matthews who will be the prized prospect at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, NY. Although the last place team in the league will not be assured of the top overall pick, and could even draft as low as fourth, there are other blue-chip prospects available this year that would get any franchise off on the right foot in their rebuilding process.
However, the focus is on Matthews, the San Fancisco, CA born, Scottdale, AZ raised center who's presently playing for the Zurich Lions in the Swiss A league. In a league against men where his 25 goals places him in the top-3 in goals scored this season, one could only imagine what his stats would be like playing Canadian Junior hockey.
Such is the prize that awaits the winner of this year's draft lottery.
"Tanking involves intentionally weakening your roster in pursuit of a specific player," continued Johnston. It's a carefully crafted sentence in which he can follow up by saying that management, in this case Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello, is looking at timing and creating space to get a good look at their young prospects. Johnston's translation, "Here come the Marlies," Toronto's AHL team.
In trading away every morsel of talent with an expiring contract in the year of Auston, it's not tanking, it's "maximizing assets." I get that.
It's exactly the same thing the Sabres did last season. Only it was met with derision from the media up north. Dave Hodge, esteemed columnist for TSN, wrote a November 8, 2014 piece that went right for the throat with the Sabres off to an atrocious start while still in the midst of tearing down their roster in a draft that included the best prospect since Sidney Crosby.
"My thumb is down to the Buffalo Sabres' lust for Connor McDavid," wrote Hodge.
"Until or unless the Sabres decide to change the conversation regarding themselves and McDavid by vowing to finish as high as they can, they are to be judged by the comments they've made," continued Hodge as he referenced the owner's Pittsburgh rebuild as a game plan and GM Tim Murray talking about "losing properly."
"Let's get Connor with honour," was the flag Hodge wanted Buffalo to fly and he continued by writing, "The Sabres are probably bad enough to get the most favourable draft odds by trying their best, and so they should say and do everything to suggest that 30th place is not acceptable….even if that is the goal."
Buffalo did exactly what the Maple Leafs are doing now--maximizing assets--and they iced a team full of AHL players, much like the Leafs will be doing for the remainder of this season after they purged all their NHL talent leading up to, and including, the NHL trade deadline. And they were raked over the coals for it.
But with the dual demi-gods of Lamariello and head coach Mike Babcock high upon their thrones atop Mount Maple Leaf, the self described Center of the Hockey Universe, Toronto's dive to the bottom of the league is somehow above reproach in this, the year of Matthews.
Fact of the matter is, no Sabres fan, or Penguins fan, should begrudge a team timing their rebuild around an elite prospect. Maple Leafs fans know as well as Sabres fans that hanging around in the middle of the league, while occasionally making the playoffs, is nothing more than a prolonged stay in purgatory and as the years melt away, so does their enthusiasm for their team.
Johnston calls Toronto's moves "smart and savvy" in regards to their trade deadline approach but even more impressive is how they managed to hoodwink hockey north with a PR campaign that has the full backing of the national media in Canada.
I think I need to look into some advertising space. Toronto fans, have I got a deal for you.