Mike Babcock and Brendan Shanahan promised a true rebuild when the former Red Wings coach was hired back in May of 2015. It was expected to be a relatively long and painful process, but one that would ultimately bring back a winning tradition to one of the league's oldest franchises.
No one expected things to progress as quickly as they did, with the Leafs making the playoffs in 2016-17, and nearly dethroning the best team in the league in the Washington Capitals.
Fast forward a year, and the Leafs are all but guaranteed a playoff berth at the beginning of February. A large part of that is due to the weakness of their division, but also their strong play. There have been stretches of mediocrity this year, but they still rank tied for 8th in the entire National Hockey League.
When asked about the progress the team has made over the past couple years, Babcock couldn't have been anymore candid or honest.
Just imagine being in that living room with the coach. Knowing that he would get Auston Matthews literally caused him to cry of happiness. He essentially admitted that if they hadn't won that lottery, they may very well not be in the position they are now.
That's what getting a bit lucky can do for you - and how singularly important a top centreman is to a franchise. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens.
Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev, Clayton Keller, and others were all available from pick number 2 and on. So it's not like they wouldn't have walked away with a terrific player. But Matthews is a game-changer, in a class of his own, rivalled only by the likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and company.
One of the best 5-on-5 scorers since joining the NHL, the Leafs have so much to be thankful for, and Matthews is at the top of the list.
Who else cried when the Leafs won the lottery?
IN OTHER NEWS
It was reported yesterday that Leafs' alumnus Dave "Tiger" Williams was charged with sexual assault. Brendan Shanahan released a statement in response to the allegations.