Just so we all have this straight, Buffalo Sabres fans are chided for cheering for their team to lose games so it can guarantee itself a chance at drafting a generational talent who could alter the course of the franchise. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are being hailed as “classy” for calling up a player who can barely play at the American League level for the last game of the season?
All right, carry on then.
The Maple Leafs have called up Orr, a player to whom they’ve already paid almost $6 million in exchange for eight goals in 231 games and are paying $925,000 to play for their AHL team this season, as some kind of thank you for everything he has done for them. We can only imagine what the send-off would be if Orr had actually done anything to help the Leafs win a game over the years.
This is being billed as some sort of classy move by the Leafs, since Orr is an unrestricted free agent and is almost certain to never be able to find work in professional hockey again after this season. This allows him to take a couple of twirls with the big team and go out in a blaze of glory as an NHL player, not a minor leaguer.
How lovely. But here’s the problem. In a season in which tanking has reared its head and teams have gone out of their way to show they’re not throwing games, the Leafs have basically told their opponents and fans that Game No. 82 is a nothing game and that they really don’t have a whole lot of concern about whether or not they win or lose it. Because if they were actually trying to win the game, they wouldn’t have Orr anywhere near the ice. The Toronto Marlies, the Leafs farm team, have played 70 games this season and Orr has missed 43 of them due to injury. That leaves 27 games in which he's been eligible to play, 14 in which he's actually played. That’s a player who belongs in the ECHL, not the NHL.
It's clear the organization doesn't even think he can contribute anything meaningful at the AHL level. Because if it did, it would have him playing for the Marlies on Friday and Saturday as they desperately chase the last playoff spot in the AHL's Western Conference.
And because the Leafs are getting all classy on us and calling Orr up for Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, we have to assume they wouldn’t do so just to nail him to the bench for the game. He’s going to get some shifts in a league where he’s proved he’s incapable of competing.
So let’s say, just for fun, Orr is wheeling around with David Booth and Zach Sill or whomever the Leafs are playing on their fourth line these days. (Which means they could be scratching prospect Casey Bailey, a player whom they need to find out whether or not can play at the NHL level. With Orr, they already know the answer.) Let’s say Orr coughs up the puck and the Canadiens go in and score the goal that turns out to be the decisive one in the game and gives the Canadiens either one or two points. And let’s say the Tampa Bay Lightning wins one of its final two games and finishes behind the Canadiens in the standings. Remember, if the Canadiens and Lightning end up tied in points, the Lightning will win the division and guarantee itself home ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
If that happens, a play by Orr could very well end up having an impact on the Lightning’s playoff chances. What’s more, if the Maple Leafs can manage to win the game Saturday and the Carolina Hurricanes lose their final two games, the Leafs will move ahead of the Hurricanes into 26th place in the standings and their chances of winning the draft lottery and getting Connor McDavid will be reduced from 9.5 to 8.5 percent. And when you put a guy on the ice who is out of his element and doesn’t belong there, it’s not a stretch to suggest there’s a chance he’s going to make a bad play at a crucial moment.
What’s more, calling up Orr for the final game of the season sends all the wrong messages. This season has been an ugly, unadulterated tire fire for the Leafs and, for the most part, they’ve given their paying customers a load of garbage to watch through the first 40 home games. They owe their fans an all-out effort and an attempt to win Game No. 41, not provide a requiem for a heavyweight who never would have played a game in the league if entrance into the NHL were based on skill level.
(An acquaintance of mine who is a season-ticket holder said he had to make his deposit for next season on his tickets this morning, hours after the Leafs looked terrible in a 5-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then they get rewarded for their loyalty for having to put up with watching Colton Orr play so the organization can repay him for his service. Nice.)
There’s something to be said about how classy the Leafs are being to Orr, who has had such a long and distinguished career in the NHL (tongue is in cheek). And after all, there’s a precedent. Exactly 60 years ago, Leaf captain Ted Kennedy received the Hart Trophy despite the fact he was not on either the first or second all-star team and didn’t finish in the top 10 in scoring. It was largely seen as a retirement gift for a player some people insist was all-time greatest Maple Leaf.
And, hey, this is kind of the same thing (tongue in cheek again).