Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports
You probably don’t realize just how big a year it was for the Toronto Maple Leafs – I certainly didn’t when I began putting this article together. Big changes to the roster, the coaching staff, and the front office all made for an exciting 365 days, but perhaps most importantly, it all points to a brighter 2016.
So here you have it… the biggest Leafs stories of 2015.
Randy Carlyle is Fired
Holy hell, are we kicking off this list with a bang or what?
We saw the Randy Carlyle firing coming from miles away, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating. Carlyle’s tenure was controversial at best and downright horrible at worst, and his teams were constantly outplayed and constantly outshot by hilarious margins. Interim head coach Peter Horachek didn’t fare much better, but Carlyle’s dismissal (and Horachek’s a few months later) set the table for a calendar year full of change.
The Most Untradeable Player In History Gets Traded
In case you weren’t aware, Columbus Blue Jackets forward David Clarkson was once a Toronto Maple Leaf. In fact, Clarkson signed a massive seven-year, $36.75M contract with the Leafs back in 2013 and deemed almost immediately a disappointment and a bust. He was untradeable… or was he?
See, the Blue Jackets were saddled with the uninsured contract of Nathan Horton, who was a pretty good hockey player before injuries sidelined his career. Figuring it’s better to pay a bad but healthy player than a good but unhealthy player, Columbus approached Toronto asking about Clarkson (no, really!). If the Leafs front office didn’t immediately accept the deal, it was because they were too busy popping bottles of champagne.
I was listening to Bob McCown and Arash Madani on Primetime Sports in my car when the news broke. Understanding the enormity of the situation, I called Jeff Veillette immediately and asked if he could start working on a story for TLN. He didn’t believe me. I had to insist he check Twitter because Jeff couldn’t fathom that Toronto was able to trade Clarkson. Good times.
Radulov to the Leafs?
Ok, so this isn’t actually a real story, but a big (and hilarious) one nonetheless. As he is prone to do every April’s Fools Day, Jeff fabricated a report that Russian superstar Alexander Radulov would be once again returning to the NHL – this time, to the Leafs.
The article itself isn’t the big story, though. It’s the fact that the Russian media actually picked it up and thought it was legit. With their help, this post became the biggest TLN article this year. I can’t imagine how many CSKA Moscow fans choked on their kasha.
Toronto Has a Hell of a Draft
We won’t know just how successful this draft was for years, but all early indications suggest it was one of the best in recent Leafs memory. We’re talking Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, Dmytro Timashov… All of these players are probably top ten prospects in the organization right now and they arrived just a few months ago.
The 2015 Draft looks even more impressive when you consider just how well the most skeptical of picks are turning out. We were all pulling on our collars when Toronto drafted ‘big’ and ‘tough’ blueliner Andrew Neilsen, and he’s the highest scoring defenceman in the WHL right now.
Babcock Arrives in Toronto
#BabcockWatch was a blast, but mostly because I was that idiot saying “I still think there’s a chance,” even after nearly everyone accepted that Babcock would either stay in Detroit or land in Buffalo. Next time you see me, give me a nice pat on the back.
Not even a day before Babcock signed on with the Leafs, we were told that he “definitely wasn’t coming to Toronto.” Then there was an outside chance. Then Jeff noticed that MLSE’s private plane was scheduled to land in Detroit and take off again three minutes later. Then it actually happened.
That was a seriously fun 48 hours.
Kessel Gets Dealt to Pittsburgh
A lot of people still have very mixed feelings on the Phil Kessel trade. Personally, I saw the logic in moving one of the best players to ever wear a Maple Leafs jersey. It wasn’t about attitude issues or work ethic or even hot dog consumption – to me, it was simply about burning everything to the ground and starting from scratch. That includes Phil, unfortunately.
The return was a little underwhelming. I like getting Kapanen and Harrington and a first round pick for Kessel. I didn’t love giving a second round pick back to Pittsburgh or retaining salary on Kessel’s contract until 2022. Maybe, in 2015, that’s just an unfortunate reality of trading big-money players. Hopefully Toronto doesn’t have to do the same for someone like Dion Phaneuf in 2016.
Unlike a lot of the other stories we’ve talked about above, this one came completely out of left field.
A lot of people were quite bent out of shape when Toronto went out and hired front office executives and entire coaching staffs and didn’t even have a GM in place. That was all rectified when the Leafs somehow hired longtime New Jersey Devils boss man Lou Lamoriello to fill the vacancy.
Seriously? Lou!? He’d trade for Travis Zajac and fire Kyle Dubas and take over the bench himself and implement the trap! Well, none of that actually happened. More likely, Lou is grooming Shanahan and Hunter and Dubas to run a successful, well respected organization while counting down the days until retirement.