Toronto Maple Leafs can’t afford to waste playoff opportunity

Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs could still land the first-overall pick in the 2020 Draft, but that should not even be a possibility when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the play-in round.

The Carolina Hurricanes currently possess the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ first-round pick in this year’s draft, but a condition placed on it could see the Canadian team land the very best prospect available.

If the Leafs’ pick lands in the top 10, the Hurricanes would receive their 2021 first-rounder instead. With a ‘placeholder’ team winning the lottery, there is still a chance the Toronto club could land Alexis Lafreniere.

In order to even have a chance of landing the first overall pick, the Leafs would have to lose their play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets when the NHL eventually resumes.

This is something the team cannot afford to let happen, even if there is the small hope of landing an NHL-ready player right out of the gate.

The Leafs have had an unusual season in 2019-20, beginning exceptionally poorly under Mike Babcock, having a sensational start to Sheldon Keefe’s NHL coaching career and then later suffering through inconsistencies and poor defensive play that had fans concerned the team could slip out of the playoff race.

With the new 24-team post-season system, the Leafs are effectively in the playoffs (in all but name, technically) and could have a real opportunity to put the past behind them and go on a run.

Throughout the season, the team has suffered through injuries and have not had a fully healthy roster, another factor in the inconsistencies seen on the ice before the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic halted play.

Now, with a few months away, the Leafs could see all of their big names come back and have a chance of pushing the team deep into the playoffs.

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Ilya Mikheyev, who was ruled out for the season before Christmas, could make a return and hopefully, bring with him the impressive form he showed early in his rookie campaign.

Fans of the Leafs are desperate to see the team progress beyond the first round and this could be their best opportunity to do so, with the four teams receiving byes into the first round needing to play for seeding and meaning a matchup against the Boston Bruins is not guaranteed.

Landing the first-overall pick would be exceptional luck for the Leafs, who will have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the ‘second’ lottery if they fail to beat Columbus.

But with that would also come many questions over how the team is being run and whether or not the current crop of players are good enough to take the team forward.

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The Leafs need a bit of positivity and losing to Columbus would be the opposite of that, whereas a run into the second stage or beyond of the real playoffs would buoy the fanbase and bring back belief that this team truly is progressing in the right way.