The Toronto Maple Leafs luck over the years has more often than not been referred to as bad. Much of that bad luck they brought upon themselves. Not by players though. Rarely have they been the cause of the team’s self-made bad luck. Aside from not having enough talent or getting injured. It’s management and ownership that have ravaged this team over the past 50 years, from Harold Ballard to Dave Nonis.
Risky moves have been made aplenty over those years with the team driven argument that it’s really the fans’ fault. That they’re too impatient for a full rebuild. It’s enough to drive any fan to drink. Then Brendan Shanahan brought the luck of the Irish to the team and everything changed, including the idea that this team’s fans wouldn’t stomach a rebuild.
Toronto Maple Leafs Luck Is Apparent
Since 2014, the Maple Leafs have slowly been turning the page on a dismal half-century with few bright spots and far too many blights for such a historic franchise. The franchise does have it’s Irish roots. It’s not crazy to think they could be a lucky team. They were known as the St. Pats from 1919 to 1927 and Conn Smythe, another Irishman, owned the team from 1927 to 1961. They won one Stanley Cup as the St. Pats and seven while Smythe owned the team.
Ballard took over in 1971. That was just after the team had won another four Stanley Cups between 1962 and 1967. At that point, the Maple Leafs ran out of luck, the good kind anyway.
The Shanahan era, as dubbed on Wikipedia, began on April 11, 2014. That’s the day Shanahan was officially announced as team President. One year later, after a period of assessment, GM Dave Nonis and interim coach Peter Horacheck were fired. The Maple Leafs finished fourth last that season. From then on, the Shanaplan was in motion.
Mike Babcock was brought in on May 20th, 2015. Babcock agreeing to coach Toronto was the first indication that the franchise’s luck was turning around. There was speculation that Babcock would coach in Buffalo. That he wouldn’t choose the dysfunctional Maple Leafs. After all, the Buffalo Sabres already had a star in Jack Eichel.
After Babcock came Lou Lamoriello, one of the best General Managers in the game. Under Lamoriello, Shanahan, and Babcock, the Maple Leafs rocketed to the last place in the NHL in the 2015-2016 season. However, the fans loved it.
It wasn’t just that the team was tanking for a chance to draft Auston Matthews. They were biding their time, accessing players. Getting value deals on free agents and then trading them away when they did well to stockpile draft picks and prospects. Perhaps it wasn’t just luck that created the model the Maple Leafs used in 2016. It was the culmination of lots of things going well.
On the management side, big names were coming to town. There was unity in what the team wanted to achieve. No egos. That’s difficult if not lucky, and it all worked out.
The team’s four-leaf clover was revealed on April 30, 2016. After narrowly missing out on winning the Connor McDavid lottery the year prior, the Maple Leafs took a 20 percent chance into the 2016 lottery and came out with the first overall pick. This is the moment it wasn’t just about getting lucky by doing the right thing. If you do good things, good things will happen, that we know. Winning the draft lottery, with one in five odds, was truly lucky, and it wouldn’t stop there.
While Matthews is still debatably the best player on the team, but Toronto has stockpiled a slew of superstars. The fact that Matthews isn’t the hands down best player like Mats Sundin was in his day, or Doug Gilmour was in his, or Wendel Clark was in his, is telling.
The debate between drafting Mitch Marner or Noah Hanifin ranged in fan circles, much like it did in the Maple Leafs’ war room. In the end, the team drafted Marner. Many were on team Hanifin, including me. I didn’t feel he was necessarily the better player, but I did feel the team needed to be drafting a defenceman at that time. Not to knock Hanifin as a player, but the Maple Leafs easily made the right call when they drafted Marner. Not only did the team make the right decision, but Marner has been even better than expected. The only drawback is the difficulty the team is going to have signing him this offseason. Although, that’s a good problem to have.
When one of the biggest stories about a team is that they have too many good players and that signing them all is going to be difficult with the Salary Cap in place, you’re doing something right.
When the Maple Leafs lost out on Steven Stamkos in 2017, questions arose about the team’s ability to sign any major free agent. It wasn’t just a Toronto thing, pulling star players away from their original team while in their prime is rare. No one was surprised Stamkos signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. What surprised many, mainly New York Islanders fans, was when John Tavares signed in Toronto.
Tavares left his team of nine years to sign with the favourite team of his childhood, his home team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. He even tweeted a picture of himself in Maple Leafs pyjamas, or was it bedsheets? The masses seem confused on that point.
Back when the team was generally unlucky, they did things like blow Game Seven 4-1 leads. These days, they take games they’re down 5-0 in, like the one against the Chicago Blackhawks last Wednesday, and make it 5-4. They make them close. They even win games like that from time to time. Like Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. They were down 5-2 in that game at one point, only to win 7-6. That was a game the Flyers were desperate to win too.
It’s certainly not ideal that they can get down by that many goals, but that’s an old story. The new story is that they’re never out of a game no matter how far behind they are.
The Boston Bruins had some luck on that fateful day in 2013. It wasn’t just because of a bad Dion Phaneuf pinch. Teams have to have some luck on their side for that kind of comeback. The Bruins had a little bit more luck in last season’s game seven against the Maple Leafs where they overcame another deficit in the third period to send Toronto home in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The times they are changing. Many may not consider the fact the Bruins and Maple Leafs are scheduled to meet yet again in the first round this year lucky. At least not for Toronto, but it’s a chance to exorcize a demon. It’s a chance to show the hockey world this team deserves respect. Something it’s not had in a long time. Beating the Bruins is only the first step towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship, but the fact that people can say that and be taken seriously, tells me this team’s improving everywhere it counts. Including being lucky when it counts. We’ll see in April.
This St. Patrick’s Day, have a green beer for the Maple Leafs. Lord knows we deserve it, but unlike in year’s past, this time it’s a good thing.