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Watching Auston Matthews and the Leafs Will Be Fun, Even If They're Bad

The Leafs' commitment to tanking proved to be worth it, but don't expect the addition of Matthews to translate to wins next season. Toronto will still be bad... but Fun Bad.

The joy experienced in Toronto on Saturday night when the Maple Leafs won the draft lottery and the right to select Auston Matthews first overall was probably not unlike what Tom Hanks felt like when he was rescued in Castaway. Years of despair with no escape in sight and suddenly the tide brought a sail.

It's probably not unfair to say that euphoria was rinsed away early Sunday morning, as Leafs fans have become conditioned to expect the worst no matter how well things are going. "We won the lottery!" could become the new "It was 4-1!" at a moment's notice, so it's understandable if you found these searches in the average Leafs fan's browser:


-Auston Matthews holdout
-Auston Matthews career-threatening injury
-Auston Matthews staying in Switzerland
-Auston Matthews arrested
-Auston Matthews gives up hockey to become graphic novelist

READ MORE: Down Goes Brown's Weekend Review: Biggest Winners and Losers of NHL's Draft Lottery

But no! Everything is great, Leafs fans. You are months away from having the team's commitment to a full-season tank be totally worth it, as you are about to select a player some consider on par with Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid.

The bad news: The Leafs are still going to be bad in 2016-17.

The good news: The Leafs are going to be Fun Bad™ in 2016-17.

Fun Bad™ is the best type of bad a team can be at this stage of a rebuild. Just how fun and just how bad the Leafs will be could be mitigated by signing Steven Stamkos, but even if he chooses to go elsewhere, the Leafs have a young core in place that will make watching them lose a whole bunch next season seem like a vacation compared to what happened in 2015-16.

Mitch Marner, another reason for Leafs fans to get off the island of despair. –Photo courtesy OHL Images

It's very possible that the Leafs could have six forwards aged 22 or under in the lineup on opening night or at some point during the season.

Nikita Soshnikov-William Nylander-Kasperi Kapanen.

Frederik Gauthier-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner.

That doesn't include Nazem Kadri (25), Jake Gardiner (25) and Morgan Reilly (22) as exciting young pieces for a team pointed in the right direction.

The Leafs finished with 69 points this season; they could finish with 69 again in 2016-17 and it would have to be considered a nicer season than the nice one they just completed because the future will be on display on a nightly basis. The kids will take lumps, commit stupid turnovers, get outmuscled by larger men, but those growing pains will help guide them toward success in the future.


And maybe another top pick.

This incarnation of Fun Bad™ should not be confused with the Fun Bad™ employed by the Dallas Stars in 2014-15, when they would play incredibly terrible hockey that resulted in gigantic collapses and wild comebacks. There will be moments next season when the Leafs will make you question your faith in the team.

What's fun is getting in on the ground floor of something special. That's what you have as Leafs fans with Matthews, Marner and all the other young kids. You will go through the heartache and frustration with them. When you sit through that 5-1 loss to the Oilers and realize all you have to show from your night is a $100 bill from the Real Sports bar across the street from the Air Canada Centre and a weird aftertaste from the wings in the back of your throat, it's a long-term investment.

Of course, this is something Oilers fans probably said to themselves about a dozen times since 2006. "Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and we've got Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, too? All this pain is going to be worth it."

Sure, there are a million ways this could go wrong for Toronto. It's not as though the six under-23 forwards listed above are going to become superstars. Maybe Matthews really does loathe the idea of playing Toronto and wishes he could study fine arts at an American college. Maybe Brendan Shanahan loses his mind and signs himself to a four-year contract to play right wing starting next season.


But outside of everything that has happened in the recent history of Leafs hockey, what reason do you have to be anything other than optimistic? They shed the bad contracts of the Dave Nonis era; they spent the 2015-16 season executing a tank that netted them the top pick and while the Oilers were dragging their feet on analytics, the Leafs have embraced them and don't have a coach who thinks players will shoot from center ice to help their Corsi.

A lot has changed for the Leafs in the last year. –Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After adding Eichel, the Sabres went from 54 to 81 points and improved their goal-differential by nearly 100. But it wasn't just Eichel's 24 goals and 56 points that aided in that turnaround—Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane finished 1-3-5 on the team in scoring after essentially not existing on the roster the year before. Even with those four players combining for 88 goals, it wasn't enough to make a serious push for the postseason.

That's what 2016-17 sets up to be for the Leafs. Think of Matthews as Eichel; Marner as Reinhart; Stamkos as O'Reilly (we may as well dream a bit here in May) and some sort of free-agent signing or even maybe late-season acquisition Milan Michalek as the 20-goal guy that Kane was for the Sabres.

Ask any Sabres fan that went through the 2014-15 tank for Eichel how much a Fun Bad™ season can be the following year. They got to watch their young players develop, had some fun along the way and now have every right to be optimistic about the playoffs in 2016-17.

Just remember—after Hanks found his sail, he had to build the raft, then he drifted at sea for days. He cried his eyes out when Wilson drifted away—maybe that will be Tyler Bozak being traded—and after he was rescued, it wasn't exactly perfect, as he found out his girlfriend was married to Mr. Big and his new football team lost a Super Bowl by a yard.

But he eventually got to that dirt road and… look, I've lost the connection to Castaway here. Hanks was eventually happy, but it took a long time after he found that sail. The Leafs have a great group of talented prospects and they are going to get Leafs fans off that island of despair very soon now that they have the sail to put on the raft.