“I’m a big believer in if you do good things, good things happen.”
Karma is something Mike Babcock carried with him under his first season as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you ask any Leafs fan, karma hasn’t been kind to Toronto through recent years. Even when the rebuild started, Babcock made it clear that pain was on its way.
When there’s pain, however, it always gets better. Life becomes a little easier when there’s something to look forward to, even during the darkest times. When the 2016 NHL Draft finally arrived and Leafs fans witnessed Auston Matthews pull the new Maple Leafs jersey over his head, they knew the hard times wouldn’t last much longer.
When it was time for Toronto to open up the entry draft with the 1st overall selection, everyone in the building knew which name was going to be called. Before GM Lou Lamoriello could finish his first sentence at the podium, he was interrupted by a chant of boos from the Buffalo crowd. The brief hiatus prolonged what Maple Leafs fans had been anxiously waiting to hear for months.
Despite the unanimous expectation of Matthews’ name being called first, hearing Patrik Laine‘s name instead was a worrisome possibility that had settled in the back of some heads. Leafs’ fans needed it to be official to settle the nerves. After the boos quieted down enough for Lamoriello to get his word in, he took the opportunity to call on Mark Hunter, the director of player personnel, to announce the first pick.
At this point, almost 20 seconds had passed since Lamoriello first spoke into the mic. The hockey world was eager to hear Matthews’ name called. The anticipation was getting to viewers from Toronto. Hunter finally made his way to the podium.
“Toronto is proud to announce, from Zurich, men’s league in Switzerland, from the US program, Auston Matthews.”
The crowd erupts.
As soon as “Zurich”came out of Hunter’s mouth, the greater Toronto area suddenly exhaled with great relief. No more speculation about Toronto trading away the pick or hot takes on why the Leafs should pick Laine. The roller coaster that began on April 30th had finally ended.
Matthews walked on stage and shook hands with Toronto’s management team. Several handshakes later and with a subtle struggle to put on the new sweater, the hockey mecca of the world observed the old era transition into the new.
To Turn Over a New Leaf
It’s generally accepted by Leafs Nation that Toronto’s current brass impacted the team since Brendan Shanahan was hired. Babcock replaced Randy Carlyle, Lamoriello replaced Dave Nonis, franchise faces such as Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were traded away. Those were only a fraction of the adjustments that were made over the past two years. The organization wanted a change from top to bottom in order to give itself an opportunity to succeed in the future.
Despite the “scorched earth” rebuild currently in full effect, the transformation of Leafs culture appears to have finally arrived. When Matthews debuted the Leafs brand new jersey on Friday, it felt as though Toronto’s experience with Murphy’s Law was left behind on their draft table. The new look for the Leafs symbolizes the success they had prior to the expansion era, an mysterious time for the younger generations. Matthews being the first of many to pull on the altered identity represents the team’s long awaited new backbone.
It’s been a long time since Leafs fans developed this much optimism for their team. Bounces seem to go their way on and off the ice. Torontonians have a newfound excitement for what lies ahead rather than false hope delivered through branches of the organization.
Drafting Matthews means more than just another top prospect to go along with Mitch Marner and William Nylander. The 18-year-old represented a revived organization after suffering through defeat and despair since 1967. Winning the draft lottery was the biggest victory the Maple Leafs have had in years. It’s sad, but true. Toronto hit rock bottom and was rewarded with it not every bottom-dwelling team is privileged with that type of luck. The pain Babcock promised found its way into Leafs fans lives, but so has the karma he believed in.