Motivated to Win. Or Not.
And it's getting harder and harder.
But let's try this. While late season playoff charges aren't out of the question, there are currently five NHL clubs unofficially out of playoff contention.
Carolina. Edmonton. St. Louis. Columbus.
And the Leafs.
Anaheim is close to joining this group, as are Tampa Bay and Florida.
But let's stick with the “Big” Five – Hurricanes, Oilers, Blues, Jackets and Leafs.
Only the Leafs, you figure, will soon have much of a reason at all to do anything other than dump players and lose, lose, lose down the stretch.
Not every manager is as noble as GM Brian Burke who, with John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman in his sights last spring, chose to sign goaltender Martin Gerber and keep at least trying to win hockey games.
For his trouble, the Leafs got the seventh pick in the draft, not the first, second or third, and still ended up with a pretty good prospect in Nazem Kadri.
With no first round pick in June, and with Toronto fans feeling more miserable every day with the possibility Boston will pick very high with the Leafs' selection, Burke has even more reason – even from public relations standpoint – to finish as high as possible among the non-playoff crowd.
Not so for Edmonton, Carolina, St. Louis and Columbus. The Oilers, in particular, are a franchise in need of a franchise player. The Canes have Eric Staal. The Blues have Erik Johnson. The Jackets have Rick Nash.
The Oilers surely need such a player, and as previously mentioned, wouldn't it be great to see a player like Taylor Hall stay in Canada rather than head off to one of these U.S. outposts (Long Island, Nashville, Atlanta, Florida) and never be seen again?
So that's your good news, Leaf fans, for this Monday morning. There are a growing number of teams that will have significant motivation to be much worse than the Leafs at season's end.
There's no reason to tank in Toronto. But there will be in many other cities.
If you worry more about where the Bruins will pick in June than whether the group of Jonas Gustavsson, Luke Schenn, Phil Kessel, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Kadri actually represents a meaningful young core than will become the foundation of a future winner in Toronto, then you should already feel better.