Maple Leafs’ Mike Babcock rails against NHL’s salary cap system

Mike Babcock spoke about the Leafs potentially "ruining" their chances of drafting first overall and how he views their situation.

Let’s be honest. There’s more anticipation surrounding the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery than there is about the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the dearth of races to qualify for them — at least that’s the case in Canada, where all seven teams have been eliminated.

The fact the Edmonton Oilers will have a strong chance at landing the first-overall pick for the fifth time in seven years has many fans and hockey executives upset. This has prompted recent discussions about potentially changing the rules regarding who should be eligible to get the No. 1 pick.

Also, the concept of a team “tanking” in order to get a higher spot in the draft, which theoretically would help facilitate a franchise’s long-term turnaround, is one that doesn’t sit well with everyone.

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan is the latest person to hop on the “let’s not reward tanking” bandwagon, suggesting this alternative:

“The day you’re mathematically eliminated, you start accumulating points,” Doan told Arizona Central on Sunday. “When you get to the end of the year, whoever’s accumulated the most points gets the first overall pick.”

On Tuesday, Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Andrew Walker asked Mike Babcock what he thought about potentially revamping the system to reward teams for winning down the stretch. Without getting into specifics on how he feels about the current draft lottery system, the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach weighed in on rewarding failure.

“The whole league is set up to help the bottom feeders,” Babcock said. “We have a salary cap, do we not? So, if there was no salary cap, the Toronto Maple Leafs could go out and spend as much money as they wanted, could they not? And as long as you made the money you could spend it. Now, I like that. That’s my political background. That’s what I believe in in life, but that’s not the way the league is run. So let’s fix that first and then we can get into the draft.”

Heading into Tuesday’s action, Babcock’s Maple Leafs were tied for 30th place in the league standings. Regardless of what they do in their final three games of the season, Toronto will have a relatively high chance of winning the lottery and selecting consensus top prospect Auston Matthews.

What happens with the lottery is out of Babcock’s control. Helping his players reach their potential and gel as a unit is something he can directly impact, and that’s where his focus is.

“I look at the standings, you understand where your team is. We’re not competitive in the National Hockey League yet,” Babcock explained.

“I knew that when I arrived. I knew it was going to take some time. I think we’ve done a lot of really good work this year in acquiring assets and moving people and setting ourselves up for the future. We’ve got our guys to play hard and compete on a nightly basis to give fans a product to watch, and yet we understand we’re nowhere near the product we want to be.”

Suffice it to say, Babcock won’t be happy if the Maple Leafs are in a similar position at this time next season.

“The expectations of our fans should be very, very high for our group moving ahead,” he said.

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