Did Mike Babcock really just inadvertently admit the Toronto Maple Leafs lost on purpose in order to win the NHL Draft Lottery and draft Auston Matthews? Maybe it’s not a big deal and maybe it is, but it sure sounds like Babcock hinted there was a plan in place to lose, which is not something any organization would or should ever openly admit to.
In an interview that will likely do as much harm as it does good for the former Leafs coach, Babcock might have accidentally let it slip that the Leafs lost intentionally in an effort to finish last during the 2015-16 NHL season. When the season was over, the Leafs finished 29-41-11 with 69 points to the Edmonton Oilers 31-43-8 with 70 points. The odds for the draft that year heavily favored the last place team so Toronto finishing last would have had a huge benefit, even in deep draft year that included Patrik Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Babcock was featured in a Sportsnet interview Wednesday ahead of the Calgary Flames versus Toronto Maple Leafs game. The interview — likely meant to help Babcock clear the air about some of his past NHL coaching issues before joining the University of Saskatchewan Huskies — covered a lot of ground. He discussed the Mitch Marner situation, his relationship with Johan Franzen and how he felt about his time as the Leafs head coach.
Among the things he said, “We went from making sure we finished last to get Austin Matthews, we built a program that was competitive, we set the record for regular season points.”
It’s the “making sure we finished last” that caught my attention.
What Did Babcock Just Admit To?
It’s easy enough to put the pieces of that Leafs’ season together. The organization traded James Reimer and finished the season with Garrett Sparks, after Babcock ripped Jonathan Bernier for a bad game. From there, the team won only two of their last nine, basically splitting games between the two backstops.
This was all after the Leafs came on strong that season and had a .500 record for the month of March. When the season appeared out of reach, Toronto sold off assets like Reimer and Phil Kessel at the deadline for futures and managed only one OT win in their last 6 games.
Is This a Big Deal?
Any team that isn’t going to make the playoffs is bound to be a seller at the deadline. That’s typical business in the NHL. But, no team would ever, in their right mind, say they were intentionally trying to finish last and lose games as a result in order to do so.
That opens the door to issues of throwing games or purposely benching players to ice an inferior team. It’s not a good look for the team, the league or the game.
At the end of the day, all the game can offer is the best efforts from everyone involved: the team, the player, the coaches and management to ensure a competitive atmosphere. If the Leafs deliberately lost games, one has to wonder if there’s more than needs to be done here.
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