Is Leafs management divided on their top pick?

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.

    • Could be the team has determined it’s easier to find a forward at 24 than a defenseman at 24.

      While there have been mistakes in the past, if you can get a Seth Jones or Alex Pietrangelo it’s something to consider. Key is not to make a mistake. But the same can be said for taking a forward.

      • FlareKnight

        Agreed. The idea that we should ignore defensemen high in the draft would have robbed us of drafting Rielly.

        You can make mistakes anywhere in the draft. If they feel a forward is the best prospect then take him, the same for a D. Don’t draft with the idea that “well you can solve this problem later in the draft” because you probably won’t.

    • silentbob

      They should take the best player available with both picks. If that means Hanifin or Provorov at #4 and another D-man at 24….. then thats what they should do.

      Personally, I think the process should work with Babcock telling the management the type of players he wants on his team and what attributes he wants/needs out of his players, the scouts then using his needs and wants as a way to focus their scouting and ranking process. What good is it to draft a player if the coach isn’t 100% on board with it?

      Its great to say Marner, for example, is the most skilled player they could draft at #4, but if the coach wants a bigger player because his style of play is better suited to players with size does that not make Strome a better choice? Or if his system works from the Blue Line out and he needs an elite/franchise D-man more then a center to make it work, does that not boost Hanifin to the top of their list?

  • FlareKnight

    I’m curious if they even are divided. The offseason has been a long one, have to think that regardless of Babcock arriving on the scene they are pretty certain about their draft lists by now.

    Though at the same time I find it hard to be really concrete about my rankings for Strome/Marner/Hanifin and who I would take at 4.

    It’s a tough call since you do need a good blueline to compete as well as forwards. The Leafs need everything so really they should just take whatever makes sense.

  • giproc

    I can’t stop thinking that the Leafs are trying really hard to land another Top 12 regardless of what it will take so they can land both a D and an F.

    For me, that HAS to be the play, whether it’s trading Kessel, JVR or a package with any of the likes of Phaneuf, Bernier, Gardiner, etc. Not getting another first rounder in the 5-15 range will be a major fail in my opinion and continue to send mixed signals of the team’s short term intent.

    This is a deep draft with 10 to 12 potential difference makers when the normal draft year is closer to 4 or 5. How often can we say that?

    • FlareKnight

      I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a goal in mind for the team right now. I mean they are rebuilding here and are trying to move guys out of the lineup. If they could pick up another top 12 pick…that would be a huge boon for the rebuild. No matter the second round, getting 3 first round picks would really be a nice move.

  • FlareKnight

    I believe the Leafs have made firm decisions to trade Kessel and Phaneuf for a) high value if they can get it, for b) fair value then it’s a done deal, and c) for undervalue if it must be. Moving those two is essential to change the culture and create some cap space (hopefully). Further, they’ll probably move Lupul, Bozak, JVR if the return is good, but they don’t necessarily feel they have to move those guys right away.

    Lastly, I also believe they will use the coming season stictly to evaluate (for Babcock’s benefit) the existing young guys like Reilly, Kadri, Gardner, Holland, etc, and will fill out the roster with some other middling free agents with trade deadling value (like they did with Winnik and Santorelli), plus a 1 or 2 young Marlies who impress in training camp (such as Percy, etc). Oh, and Robidas and Pollack will stick around to babysit and mentor.

    With that in mind, they don’t necessarily have to grab the D-man 1st this year just to please Babcock. But, he will have a bigger say in that next after he knows what he has.

  • CMpuck

    NYI had Trottier Bossy and Potvin, Oilers had Gretski Messier and Coffey, Chicago has Toeves Kane and Keith; i.e., two forwards and one D-man. Toronto can have Marner Nylander and Rielly. Even if the Leafs don’t get the 5th (Hanifin/Provorov), the 11th would still get Zboril or Werenski. they can also get Andersson and Meloche with 24th and 41st.

  • Gary Empey

    Which came first the chicken or the egg?

    The content of this article is really the one that has all Leaf Nation losing sleep.

    The number four pick is not only expected to make the team fairly quickly but also to become a star first line forward or top two defenceman.

    That there are two schools of thought on this subject is hardly surprising if one has been following the comments on this site. They largest school here feels we should be taking the best forward (Marner) available. I am part of the old school who believe -build the defence first (Hanifin – Provorov ). Even though this is a major rebuild I don’t expect we will be looking at a top five pick next year. If anyone expects Babcock to tank the team for a pick they need to sign themselves in somewhere for a nice rest. Me I have made an appointment to increase my meds.

    I seriously doubt there is any conflict in the “real war room”. The direction of the Leaf rebuild would have been well discussed at the interview process. including the #4 pick. The chicken or egg question would have been agreed to before the pens came out of the pockets.

    PS.
    Is it my imagination or are things starting to get tense around here ?

    Can Silent Bob hold it together for one more week?

    Will Leaf Nation be so impressed with my wisdom that they actually remove the option to trash me from the board ?

    Should we all meet somewhere in a sports bar so everyone has a beer to cry in.

    Will Justin sit back and say ” I told you so” ?

  • CMpuck

    Whether the Leafs take a forward or D-man 4th, they can get puck-moving Andersson at 24th, and if they get Buffalo’s 21st to get 6’3 Guryanov (and 6’3 Grigorenko), they could get 6’4 Derchachev at 41st.

  • Gary Empey

    Damien Cox is just another media wh0re fanning the flames for ratings. They will pick the best “talent” with each of their picks. By trading their assets now, for picks in 2016 and 17, it will force everyone to be patients it’s the rebuild and ensure the Leafs will be getting top 10 picks the next few drafts.
    It looks like the top ten I. 2016 will be very impressive as well