The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the curious distinction of being both the worst run yet also one of the richest franchises in all of sports. They have all of the money of the New York Yankees with the competitive performance of the Cleveland Browns.
That they are rich is not a matter for debate; Forbes routinely lists them as the NHL’s most valuable franchise and despite the highest ticket prices in the league, their games have been continuously sold out for several generations. Both the Ontario Teachers Union Pension Plan and scalpers owe their comfortable future retirements to the money making machine that is the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Though not even the most die-hard Leafs fan would argue that the Leafs have been a great team, many would argue that calling them the worst team in sports would be an exaggeration, and that they are merely one of many not very good teams. They might say that a lot of the negativity directed at the Leafs is a result of jealousy that the Leafs are always on Hockey Night in Canada and receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. It is no doubt true that much of the negativity directed at the Maple Leafs is purely due to rivalries and jealousies, but if you step back and look at the facts, it is clear that even their critics do not appreciate just how awful this team has been for over a generation.
Great organizations like the Detroit Red Wings generally build their teams by making smart draft picks over time and developing their prospects. Teams that draft well don’t just have a smart GM; they have talented and hard working scouting and minor league coaching staff that follow strategic and methodical system of identifying and developing young talent. While any one pick could turn out to be a bust, in the long run a team with a solid system will outperform. The Toronto Maple Leafs on the other hand have displayed a shocking inability to either draft or develop prospects.
In the last 28 NHL drafts, the Leafs have not drafted and developed a single star with a first round pick. The first round picks by the Leafs in the last 28 NHL drafts have scored a cumulative total of 284 goals for the team. Not a single first round pick in that timeframe scored more than 30 goals for the team. More players have scored less than 20 goals in their Leaf careers than have scored 20 in a season in a Toronto uniform.
In fairness, Toronto traded their first round picks in several of those draft years. One year they traded their pick to New Jersey and they picked Scott Niedermeyer. Another year they traded a pick to Florida and they picked Roberto Luongo. A couple of years they picked a goalie. One of them was Eric Fichaud, who never made the NHL, and the other was Tukka Rask. Rask was then traded to Boston, where he went on to win the Vezina Trophy as the League’s top goaltender.
To put things in perspective, Nik Andropov has more than twice as many career goals (113) as a Leaf than any other player picked in those 28 years. You think that sounds bad? Luke Schenn is in fourth place with 14 career goals. A blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a draft board would literally have produced better results than Toronto has managed over the past 28 years.
The reason why the Maple Leafs have been so awful for so long at drafting suggests the team is suffering from some fundamental organizational deficiencies. This is no doubt due to being lulled into complacency from being the only NHL team in a city filled with affluent and rabid hockey fans. Toronto simply never really needed to build a top notch organization, because they knew that they knew no matter how terrible a team they put on the ice they could still continue to raise ticket prices every year and still sell out. As long as the fans keep forking over money to watch an awful hockey team, the Leafs will continue to be an awful organization.