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Eight reasons to look forward to draft weekend

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

As some of you know, I am not a glass half-poisoned type of guy.

Let me, in the spirit of lighthearted optimism, repeat what you already know: this was a Toronto Maple Leafs season like no other.

Here are eight reasons to look forward to this, the final meaningful weekend of the Leafs season as the team enters Friday’s first day of the draft and soon the July 1 free agency sweepstakes.

1. Stuff has already been done.

Winston Churchill knew nothing of hockey but a few things about rebuilding.

“This is not the end,” he said midway through the Second World War. “It is not the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning.”

Saturday - regardless of who is or is not a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs - represents the end of the beginning.

Mike Babcock is in place. He has lined up his assistants. The scouting staff has been revamped and a new analytics team will work with Mark Hunter and assistant GM Kyle Dubas.

The abiding philosophy of the organization, certainly for the first time since the Brian Burke era, has been articulated. It is progressive and methodical. It will be built on speed while still being painstakingly slow.

2. Management is secure. This is the most ensconced Leafs’ management team ever. Shanahan and Babcock have the hockey equivalents of jobs for life. Like every players, GMs and coaches work for their next contract. There is no new contract for these guys. There is no need for short cuts. No one is bigger than the program.

3. The Leafs will start acting less like partners and more like competitors. Expect them to poach for every advantage to assemble the best off-ice combination they can muster.

4. They will cashier tradable assets and you have to figure that will be fun to watch. Aside from the elements of their future core: think Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and whoever they draft, Friday, veterans will be on the clock. Expect to see a number of players going the Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli route in which they are allotted plenty of ice time with an eye to being flipped at the deadline.

5. A revised draft lottery system means the Leafs won’t have to finish among the absolute dregs to bag a top drawer pick in a class expected to be headed by budding number one pick Auston Matthews.

6. Personnel decisions will be made with consideration given to analytics. No one needs analytics to determine whether Sidney Crosby is any good. Analytics are best used to quantify players whose real value isn’t apparent. They are most useful in a situation like this in which the goal is not to compete for a championship but to prosper in a series of buy low, sell higher, transactions.

7. In a year or so, there could be plenty of free agent material to accelerate a rebuild. Some combination of Eric Staal, 30, Steve Stamkos, 25, Anze Kopitar, 27, Ryan O’Reilly, 25, Brent Seabrook, 30 and Dustin Byfuglien, 30, should be eligible for unrestricted free agency a year from now.

8. This is a great year to own the fourth pick. Unless they change the draft rules, the Phoenix Coyotes can pick only one of Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov.

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