That No. 1 card will be the highlight, the go-to clip that they show for years when they talk about the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. The moment when Bill Daly flipped over that final card to reveal a Maple Leafs logo and award the top pick to Toronto will be the lasting image of Saturday night’s festivities.
But for diehard Maple Leafs fans – a group that it’s fair to say I know a thing or two about – the biggest moment of the night had already come a few minutes earlier. It was the No. 4 card, the one that would reveal the final team to fall out of the top three. The fourth pick represented the worst-case scenario for Leafs fans, and so it went without saying that it was what we were all expecting. When that last spot came down to the Leafs or the perpetually lottery-charmed Edmonton Oilers, we all knew what was coming.
So when Daly flipped that No. 4 card and we were left staring at an Oilers logo instead, there was a palpable confusion mixed in with the joy. The Maple Leafs had won… something. We didn’t know quite what, but something good had happened. And we all had the same thoughts: Did we just witness the turning point? Could decades of misery be ending? Are things really going to be different now?
And then, inevitably: How are they going to screw this up?
That's just how Maple Leafs fans are wired. And rightly so. We've lived through Harold Ballard and Kerry Fraser and Doug Gilmour's comeback and Rask-for-Raycroft and "It Was 4-1". This has to end badly, because these are the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it always ends badly.
So how does that work for something that seems as undeniably positive as winning the Auston Matthews lottery? Today, let's try to figure it out. Sure, it sounds pessimistic, but that's just who we are. It's better if we all work through this together. Call it preventative maintenance.
Here are five ways that what seems like a sure-thing could still go badly for the Maple Leafs.
Matthews ends up being a bustThis is the most obvious possibility. The Leafs take Matthews, their fans anoint him as the chosen one, and then he turns out to be the next Alexandre Daigle or Patrik Stefan. The NHL has a long history of high-profile draft busts, as you'd expect given the difficulty involved in projecting the future development of an 18-year-old kid. There's no reason Matthews couldn't be next.
That's not to say he will; scouts seem to love the kid, and most prospects who enter the league with this sort of resume go on to long and successful careers. When there's this much hype around a prospect, even a mild disappointment still nets you a pretty good player, even if that ends up being an Owen Nolan or Pierre Turgeon instead of an Alex Ovechkin or Mario Lemieux. True busts in the number one slot are memorable in part because they're fairly rare. But they do happen.
Could it happen? Sure. It's unlikely – today, nobody thinks Matthews will be anything but a star. But nobody thought Daigle would disappoint either, and look how that turned out. It's pro sports, and busts happen. And if you're a Leafs fan convinced that something has to come along and derail all this newfound optimism, this is your most straightforward possibility.