Between the end of the season and now, you’ve probably become aware that the Leafs have a franchise-altering decision to make next week at the draft. It’s fun to speculate on which way they’ll go, but it’ll also be nice to leave the house, talk to loved ones, and just return to our regular lives after they make that pick.
We’re obviously not the only ones trying to get a read on how the Leafs are approaching fourth overall, as media in Toronto have been trying as hard as possible to get any indications whatsoever. But it seems like no one has any idea who they favor, and that might be because the management team itself still has some internal review to get through.
Bob McKenzie joined TSN Drive Wednesday evening to talk about the draft, and he was asked about which way he thinks the Leafs are leaning between their most talked-about potential targets: Marner, Hanifin, Strome, or Provorov.
“Honestly I don’t know that. And I think there’s a lot of internal discussion on which way they would go – I’ll be curious to see who has the final say-so on it. Is it Mark Hunter? Is it Brendan Shanahan? I’m sure Mike Babcock has probably got an opinion, and if I know Mike he’s got an opinion on that and just about everything else, so….Mike Babcock comes from an organization – the Detroit Red Wings – where there’s always, always, always been a premium put on defencemen. That is where you build, from the blue line out. And on a Maple Leaf team that has, for now Dion Phaneuf – but maybe not for how long, who knows – really when you look at the building blocks, there’s one primary building block on the blue line: Morgan Rielly. Maybe Jake Gardiner can can be that, but maybe not. Rielly is the one guy you would say “I would envision this guy being a ten-year plus player for the Maple Leafs.” So you want to get more guys like Morgan Rielly – mobile puck-handling defencemen – because that’s the way Mike Babcock plays the game. So if that’s the case, you know, Hanifin or Provorov would be the logical candidates. But we know Hunter has a strong connection with Marner, and I can find you multiple NHL scouts who say this guy is going to be a dominant offensive player in the NHL and he’s obviously the answer.”
This isn’t totally new, but it is a growing story it seems.
No one will know who the Leafs are picking until they, you know, pick. But the shift of focus from Marner versus Strome to Hanifin and, to an almost bigger extent, Provorov, is something that has emerged since the Babcock hiring.
Dreger mentioned a few weeks ago that there was some debate among the Leafs’ front office in how they’re approaching this pick, and he floated that same basic premise: Babcock wants a defenceman, but Hunter has the ties to Marner.
Now, I know a lot of folks are going to say “If this is actually happening, Babcock needs to step back”, going back to a commonly held idea that coaches coach and managers manage. And that’s fair. Mike Babcock was introduced as the coach and just that. But at the same time, if someone wants to bring their philosophies or lessons learned from a team that hasn’t missed the dance in two decades to the Leafs, well, it’s tough to complain.
We don’t know to what extent this internal debate is happening, but this is getting too much air play right now to be nothing. Damien Cox of Sportsnet even went as far as predicting the Leafs will select Provorov with their fourth overall pick. I mean, he can’t know for sure, but why did he do that?
Again, this sort of talk also circles back to whether or not the Leafs could explore a trade if they feel someone they covet could be available a couple spots down the line – especially in the case of Provorov, who’s ranked 7th in a lot of places. But either way, this debate at four really seems to have changed since Babcock was brought in, and I think it’s fair to say, given the surfacing reports recently, he’s had plenty of input as to how the Leafs will approach that pick. Like McKenzie mentioned, we’ll see who gets the final say next Friday.