Connor McDavid has a decent chance of becoming a Leaf. No really, it’s true. He has a better chance of becoming a Sabre, Oiler or Coyote, but this year’s draft lottery is a lot different – the chances of winning significantly less weighted toward the true cellar dwellers than in years past. Hell, even the Sharks have a 5% chance of drafting first at this point.
As it stands, and as you likely already know, the Leafs hold down a 9.5% chance of drafting the generational talent, and that’s certainly enough to make us say “this might actually happen”, but what would it mean for Toronto’s rebuild and supposed “scorched earth” approach they’re committing to?
Everything appears to be on sale for the Leafs right now, except perhaps Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. We can argue about whether guys like Gardiner and Kadri will also stick around (and I think they will), but you get the idea. This “core” is finished, and it’s even gotten to the point where it seems Kessel and Bernier are as good as gone. That’s scorched earth. That’s hitting the reset button.
But a lot of the discussion around this plan takes place under the assumption that the Leafs go forward with a paltry lineup next season while they send Mitch Marner or Dylan Strome (their two most-talked-about draft targets) back to the OHL for a year and start the player the development cycle. If they hit on their 1-in-10 chance to draft McDavid, however, it would be like getting the whistle in Mario 3 and going into some sort of rebuild warp zone.
How would this accelerate things, and who gets to stick around and take part? Surely the Leafs would have to completely re-evaluate their entire roster, and perhaps they’ve already begun discussions based on both paths: Life with McDavid or without.
I think there are players on this current roster beyond saving. As declining assets on questionable contracts, Phaneuf and Lupul are surely gone if other teams want them. And with a front office that appears to finally have some smart people working in it, Tyler Bozak’s departure should be a forgone conclusion as well. But when you get into the names like Bernier, van Riemsdyk, and most importantly Kessel, things get a little more difficult.
McDavid likely becomes a top center in the league within two years (maybe even one), and the thought of him centering an elite goal-scorer like Kessel is almost frightful. Marner or Strome, as good as they are, won’t have that kind of impact. Most number ones don’t, for that matter. But we’re talking about a Crosby/Ovechkin-like player here, a franchise cornerstone with immediate returns.
In the much more probable case that McDavid doesn’t pull the Leafs from the depths of hell, mowing down the rest of this roster is something I’m totally on board with. Kessel, Bernier, whoever, goodbye. Tank it for the next couple years, I don’t care. But if Bill Daly awkwardly opens that envelope and there’s a big blue Leaf on the card, this summer reaches a new level of excitement for fans, while in some ways perhaps it presents more difficulty for the decision-makers in the front office.