Everyone knows that if you’re planning to build a dynastic hockey club, you need discipline. You need to hire a bunch of dweebs with PhDs in rocket propulsion. You need proprietary analytic software. Most of all, you need to pick a plan. Then you need to stick with it until it works, and it will work because that’s what plans do.
Alternately, there’s the Johnny Gaudreau approach to team construction.
Gaudreau was the cornerstone of the Calgary Flames’ disciplined, analytically sound roster renovation. Until he decided this week that he preferred to play for less money in Columbus for the Blue Jackets.
Forget about the quality of the hockey team (terrible). Have you been to Columbus? The only good explanation here is that Gaudreau, a native of New Jersey, confused Columbus with Calabasas. Or maybe he’s a big fan of Italian naval history.
Hating Calgary and wanting to make Calgarians suffer as much as possible would not be a nice explanation, but it would be an explanation.
But no, according to Gaudreau, there’s no particular reason for his choice. He just digs the vibe.
“Every time I play here, it’s a lot of fun to play here,” Gaudreau said. “The fans are into it.”
This sounds like a four-year-old explaining why he likes daycare.
Gaudreau said that at his introductory news conference. He showed up in shorts and flip flops. So maybe you’re getting a sense of where his head’s at, professionally speaking.
All that to say, you can precisely follow the NHL Erector Set instruction manual. Then Johnny Hockey wanders by on his way to irrelevance and knocks it all over with one delightfully odd decision.
You’d like to think this sort of thing makes the Toronto Maple Leafs doubt their life choices, but, you know, probably not.
The Leafs didn’t lose NHL free-agency week. Instead, they decided to help the Ottawa Senators win it.
Before Ottawa could start stockpiling free-agent talent, it had a problem – Matt Murray.
Murray is an above-average goaltender who is rarely fit to play goal, making him about as valuable to an NHL team as I am to the space program. He also costs about the same as the Leafs would have paid to last year’s No. 1, Jack Campbell. Campbell has since moved to the Edmonton Oilers, which all Leafs fans know in their heart means he is the next Grant Fuhr.
Don’t worry. This is part of the plan.
Which is not to be confused with the old plan, which is no longer the plan. Less than six months ago, the plan was Campbell and Peter Mrazek in net.
“I’m not concerned about either one of them,” GM Kyle Dubas said then, when he should already have been incredibly concerned.
But what does an on-the-record affirmation of faith really mean anyway? It’s not to be taken literally. It’s meant more symbolically – ‘I’m not concerned about either of them (finding another place to live and work and lose playoff hockey games).’
Campbell’s gone, but at least he managed to pay for his own ticket out of town. The Leafs had to pay someone else to take Mrazek, so that they could then turn around and ask Ottawa to help them pay for Murray.
If this is a plan, it’s not exactly the D-Day invasion, is it? It seems more like, “Oh God, is it Tuesday? I could have sworn it was … okay, what are we … just tell me a name. Gimme a name. Hurry. The phone’s ringing. Hurry.”
Anyway, the plan now is Murray.
Dubas has figured out that he should stop talking about Sault Ste. Marie like it is the Bethlehem of hockey. So instead of talking about his long-ago connection with Murray back when they were bowling partners there or whatever, he hyped Murray’s “pedigree.”
“If not for that pedigree and what he’s accomplished … he wouldn’t be a fit.”
In the next answer, Dubas said that Murray and another new acquisition, free-agent Ilya Samsonov, will be in “wide-open competition” for the starting job.
Let’s take a look at the plan (version 4.0). You can’t find a starting goalie who can win in the playoffs. So you hire a guy based on the fact that he won a couple of Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh. Since then, he’s hurt all the time and his confidence has been shattered. You bring him into the biggest market in the sport, fête him like he’s a legend of the game and then say he might not be the starter, implying that there is a not-insignificant chance that he could turn into another disaster.
So here’s the 10,000-foot view of the Leafs’ plan now. They got bad, they got lucky in the lottery and then they got luckier in the draft. They ended up with some good players and signed them to long-term deals. None of this has worked. Based on results, they’d have been better off picking names out of a hat. They’re still fixated on the goalie problem, and now those deals are about to roll over.
Auston Matthews has two years left. Mitch Marner has three. The Leafs’ window is closing and they’re still trying to figure out how the curtains work.
If you have forever and a day to fiddle with the back-end details, then fine. But there’s the Johnny Gaudreau scenario.
The Leafs’ Gaudreau moment is coming and it’s going to be Matthews Gaudreau-ing them. Isn’t this obvious?
Why would he stay? Toronto can’t offer Matthews more money than anyone else. The city isn’t his home. He can’t have a lot of fond memories of his time in blue. People here think he’s a massive talent who’s brought microscopic returns. Leaving allows him to become a new, richer person, and in his own country.
There’s no knowing what’s going to happen, but knowing just a few things does not suggest good reason for positivity at 50 Bay St.
If a player such as Gaudreau can choose a team such as Columbus, then anything really is possible in all possible NHL worlds.
And if it that’s the case, you can forget about your plans. A better plan might have been doing whatever you had to to make sure that you didn’t lose sight of the right-now while you were busy making plans.