A week ago I wrote about the Leafs’ decision over their top pick, and whether that process might be presenting some substantial debate within the front office. It’s becoming more and more evident leading up to tonight that the people in that room have their favourites, and the two biggest voices appear to be Mike Babcock and Mark Hunter.
The ties between Hunter and highly-touted prospect Mitch Marner don’t need to be covered here again, we understand how they’re linked. On the other side, Babcock has apparently integrated himself into the Leafs’ draft decision processes, and by most accounts it seems he really wants the team to build from the blue line up, targeting names like Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov. As Bob McKenzie mentioned last week, we’ll see who gets their way at the draft table tonight.
But does this sort of news signal a potential problem in the organization? If Shanahan (and I’m assuming he has final say) decides to side with Babcock’s view and overrules Hunter – a guy he’s pegged with overseeing the draft for the most part – will a rift emerge among the group? I mean, it doesn’t seem out of the question, especially keeping in mind Hunter’s brother, Dale, didn’t last long in the NHL. Mark Hunter is likely used to running things his way in London, and he probably needs to be the authority here for draft-related decisions.
James Mirtle from the Globe covered the story this morning, and he had some interesting information on how things are shaking out.
Make no mistake, Babcock has become an important voice for the Leafs. In the five weeks since signing an eight-year, $50-million (U.S.) deal, he has been putting in 12-hour days, working and debating with the scouting staff and management over their choices….His vision for how the Leafs will play mirrors his philosophy in Detroit and with Team Canada: He wants a team that moves and thinks fast and that doesn’t spend a lot of time in its own end….Strength on the blueline and at centre is paramount. A smallish winger? Not as much.
Personally I think the Leafs will defer to Hunter and take Marner at four, he should still be the favourite. However, we did get some news this morning that the team interviewed with Noah Hanifin’s family and will work out the defenceman ahead of the draft, so that throws another dose of gas on the fire for questions about the level of Babcock’s influence.
Basically all that’s left now is for the Leafs to, you know, actually make the pick. But if both Hanifin and Marner are on the board when they do, keep in mind that which way they go likely says a lot about whose voice is the loudest at that table.