Maple Leafs get hope from draft lottery win, but not much else
Toronto's Stanley Cup drought set to reach 50 years next season
The 49th anniversary of Jim Pappin's Stanley Cup-clinching goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 6 of the 1967 Stanley Cup final just happens to be today.
There may have been temporary loss of memory on this fact due to the giddiness on Saturday evening, when the long-suffering fan base found out the Maple Leafs had won the draft lottery and right to select slick centre Auston Matthews first overall next month.
The addition of the 18-year-old, 6-foot-2, 195-pound Matthews will boost the Maple Leafs rebuilding efforts. But anybody who bothered to stick around to watch Game 2 of the skilled and swift-paced Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals series can see even with Matthews' talent, Toronto is a long way off from contending.
Stanley Cup final drought continues
Unless the Maple Leafs can pull off a Leicester City next season, the Stanley Cup drought will hit 50.
Since Pappin's goal, the NHL has expanded from six to 30 teams. The other five pre-expansion teams – Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal and the New York Rangers – have each won at least one Stanley Cup since 1967.
Another dozen teams from the expansion era have won a league championship, led by five titles for the Edmonton Oilers and four for the New York Islanders. Another six teams in Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa, St. Louis, Vancouver and Washington at least have advanced to a final.
That puts the Maple Leafs in the company of Arizona, Columbus, Minnesota, Nashville, San Jose and Winnipeg as the only franchises that haven't made it to a final in the past 49 years. Minnesota, at least, made two trips to the final when the Stars were in 1981 and again 10 years later.
The Maple Leafs are in a good spot with Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly and other young talent. But there still is a long way to go.
Question marks abound in T.O.
The offseason will be interesting to see what course Toronto president Brendan Shanahan and his lieutenants travel. Does the addition of Matthews expedite the rebuild? Do they make a pitch for potential unrestricted free-agent Steven Stamkos or do they wait until John Tavares hits the market in the summer of 2018?
What will the Maple Leafs do with Marner next season? Does the 18-year-old forward really benefit from another season in junior?
Besides winning the draft lottery, other positive developments for the Maple Leafs have been the AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, have advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Marner and the London Knights are in the Ontario Hockey League final against the Niagara IceDogs.
Also, beginning on Friday, the Maple Leafs will get a closer look at Matthews at the 2016 world championship, when he and the United States open the tournament against Rielly and Canada in Russia.
Another interesting early-tournament game will be when the United States meets Finland on Monday. This will provide an opportunity to see Matthews go up against Patrik Laine, who will play for Finland after winning the Jari Kurri Trophy as the MVP in the Finnish Liiga playoffs.
With the Zurich Lions in the Swiss National League A, Matthews checked in with 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games.
Marc Crawford was his coach in Switzerland, and the former Stanley Cup winner behind the bench of the 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche has heaped plenty of praise on Matthews.
Crawford called Matthews the class of the Swiss league and claimed that Matthews could have played in the NHL this past season.
The coach has compared Matthews to three of Crawford's former players, Joe Sakic, Anze Kopitar and Jamie Benn, saying he has Kopitar's speed and drive to the net, Benn's touch around the crease to knock in rebounds, and Sakic's ability to disguise his shooting release.
Whether one day Matthews will become the next Pappin remains to be seen, but his arrival in Toronto next season will at least give this sad-sack franchise hope.