This much is clear: Gary Bettman and Bill Daly are the most honest folks in professional sports. Never doubt them again after Saturday’s draft lottery, which will result in a generational player – Connor McDavid – wasting the early stages of his career in Edmonton.
Of all the cities or franchises that didn’t deserve McDavid, it’s Edmonton. Who knew that just one season of tanking wasn’t enough? Who knew you had to tank four times? Or just hire Kevin Lowe – the General Patton of NHL tanking.
Not to be parochial, here – truth is, my fan sentiments lie more with the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks than with the Toronto Maple Leafs – but let’s be honest: McDavid would have been of maximum marketing value and would have had the most immediate positive impact in Toronto. (Sorry, Buffalo.) There is a softening in this marketplace that I’m not certain will withstand a long rebuild without a transformative figure like McDavid. You won’t have to hold a tag day for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Ltd. but you will be able to buy tickets, and as much as I like Morgan Rielly, I’m not certain he pushes product in the manner of a McDavid. Rielly’s a nice player; McDavid is a kilowatt-emitting machine whose first choice (c’mon, you know it as much as I do) was to play with the Maple Leafs.
Folks around the rest of the country won’t like hearing this, but the Maple Leafs have bankrolled the NHL for a long time. They were printing money while other Canadian franchises were on financial life-support, or wringing their hands over weak Canadian currency. It would have been nice to get a McBone thrown in their direction, you know? And you’d think that Bettman’s background in the NBA would have taught him a thing or two about the strategic value of, um, “directing” generational players. Remember how Patrick Ewing ended up with the New York Knicks in 1985 (the frozen or creased envelope conspiracy)? Remember how the Cleveland Cavaliers went from fourth to first in the 2011 draft lottery (hmm … don’t the Leafs have the fourth pick?) after losing LeBron James? Or how about 2008, when Chicago native Derrick Rose ended up with the Bulls when that team, in dire need of a star after the post-Michael Jordan years, cashed in on a 1.5 per cent pre-lottery chance of getting the first pick overall? Coincidence? Yeah, right. Professional sports is about entertainment and marketing and money and TV and such. Fairness sometimes sucks. Connor McDavid should be a Maple Leaf, and everyone knows it – including McDavid himself.
You knew there would be a point early in the season when the Toronto Blue Jays’ patience with young players would be tested – but most likely with a pitcher, not Dalton Pompey.
The 22-year-old Pompey had a game to forget Sunday, with two fielding miscues that essentially gave the Atlanta Braves their runs. And while his universal apology following the game was well-intentioned, it was a little disconcerting. Introspection is great in pro athletes … to a point.
Already there is a call for the Blue Jays to consider sending Pompey to triple-A Buffalo when Michael Saunders rejoins the team, because Kevin Pillar has replaced Munenori Kawasaki as everybody’s favourite overachiever. All he needs to do is start dancing and stretching and he’ll be here forever. But I still see Pillar as being a really good fourth outfielder should Saunders come back, or perhaps a right-handed hitting complement to Pompey, who in an admittedly small sample size has swung a much more authoritative bat as a lefty.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos would never say publicly where the bottom line is with Pompey, but my guess is this is one where body language and demeanour will count as much as raw numbers. The Pompey Watch has started in other words.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
- I’d have to think that FOX Sports’ decision to bring in Pete Rose as an analyst for the MLB on FOX pre-game show and some of its other baseball properties is yet another sign that commissioner Rob Manfred is going to break with his predecessor Bud Selig and reinstate Rose. No way a network partner does that without some back-channel discussions.
- While Josh Donaldson was busy hitting game-winning home runs this weekend, the guy the Blue Jays traded to get him — Brett Lawrie — played a role in three dugout-clearing incidents. Lawrie’s take-out slide of Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar on Friday night saw the dugouts empty and they did again Saturday when he was hit with a 99 mph fastball by the Royals’ Yordano Ventura, who was ejected from the game. Sunday, Kelvin Herrera threw a 100 mph heater behind Lawrie’s head, then pointed to his temple. Another dugout clearing situation. Lawrie’s slide was more reckless than dirty, which won’t come as a surprise to those who watched him with the Blue Jays.
Lawrie’s not a malicious guy, but he does play in something of a red mist at times and that exacerbates his natural tendency toward recklessness. Truthfully? The biggest surprise is that Lawrie didn’t injure himself on the slide, never mind Escobar. The Royals, by the way, have had 15 batters hit this season. No wonder they’re sensitive.
- So how’s that rebuild going so far, Leafs fans? No Connor McDavid and possibly not even Dylan Strome if the Arizona Coyotes pick the best player available ahead of the Leafs instead of some dime-a-dozen college defenceman. Every option should be on the table for Brendan Shanahan and his group – including packaging the pick if it becomes clear that Strome is going to the Coyotes. McDavid was Plan A, Strome Plan B. There should be no Plan C with this draft.
- Several people around the Blue Jays are miffed that Baltimore Orioles reliever Darren O’Day didn’t hear from the commissioner’s office after he threw behind Jose Bautista’s head last weekend, especially considering the fact that Marcus Stroman was suspended for six games last season after throwing behind Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph. The Orioles are in town this week, and in addition to keeping an eye on that matchup, don’t be surprised if Orioles manager Buck Showalter does some carping about the new Rogers Centre surface. If anybody’s going to file a grievance over it, it’s him.
THE END GAME
All I kept hearing from Raptors fans and observers earlier this season was how different last year’s playoffs might have been had James Johnson been around to help out with perimeter defence and add some testosterone to the matchup with Paul Pierce. Now he’s here and Dwane Casey is giving us a steady diet of Terrence Ross and his flights of defensive fancy. What’s up with that? Ross would be of most use in this series on the bench.