Embrace the pain, Toronto Maple Leafs fans. There's more on the way.
That's according to general manager Lou Lamoriello, at least, writes The Canadian Press' Jonas Siegel. While Toronto's at the bottom of the NHL standings, the team has taken strides this season under head coach Mike Babcock, who's somehow formed a positive-possession team with a roster torn down throughout the season and featuring mostly American Hockey League players.
But patience is key, according to Lamoriello.
"I don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We still have a ways to go," the 73-year-old said. "We can’t get excited about success we’ve had recently because all of these things have a way of changing when the pressure starts."
By "success," Lamoriello means the impact of Babcock, as well as the play of William Nylander, who has five goals and five assists in his first 19 games of NHL action. There's also the Toronto Marlies, who are the AHL's best team and primed for a playoff run.
"Right now, we're still in that early stage. To use the expression that Mike did - 'there will be pain' - there will be more pain, but it is in the right direction."
The Maple Leafs are tied for 30th in the NHL standings with the Edmonton Oilers, but can't catch them in regulation wins. If both teams lose out to close the season, Toronto will finish last and have the best odds at selecting first overall in the draft.
While the standings are a disappointment, Toronto has been open about the fact it's rebuilding. Expectations have been low from day one, and the Maple Leafs have been impressed by the young players who have worn the blue and white this season - the Zach Hymans and Nikita Soshnikovs and Kasperi Kapanens.
"I think we've got a couple players, more than a couple, that can be outstanding players in the National Hockey League. But I say that with a little bit of tongue in cheek, because I've seen situations before (where it didn't work out)."
Looking ahead, Lamoriello will be watching the coming World Championship with interest, especially with presumptive No. 1 pick Auston Matthews set to represent the United States in Russia.
After the draft comes free agency, and Lamoriello said the Maple Leafs won't shy away from dipping into the market if they can get a player who will help them. Lamoriello also has to get Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly signed, with both players set for restricted free agency.
There's no doubt Lamoriello views both as core players, especially Kadri, who's been praised by both the GM and Babcock in what has been a down season statistically.
For once, the Maple Leafs have a plan. Supporters of the franchise will surely take some pain along with it.
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