It has been five years since the Leafs last played a playoff game. That’s before the Lockout. I am sure many Leaf fans still remember that fateful last playoff game, when Jeremy Roenick scored for the Flyers in Overtime to eliminate the Leafs from the 2004 playoffs. I don’t think anyone who was watching that game knew how long it would be before the Blue and White played a best of seven series again.
Years of bad management, quick fixes, and trading picks for washed up old guys was resulted in 5 straight losing seasons with more Golf games then Hockey games being played by the Leaf players. When all this is taken into account, it is easy to understand the impatience one can have when the Leafs announce they are Re-building, and when Burke got to T.O last year, I think it is safe to say I was not the only one who had written off the upcoming season as a one in which the playoffs would elude us once more as Leaf Land was rebuilt.
If history has taught us anything about Brian Burke, it is that he is not very patient. With the last 3 teams he has been GM of he has made a big deal within his first 12 months of touchdown, And Toronto is no exception. Burke arrived in Toronto about 8 or so months ago and the team that greeted him was much different than the team that he is General Manager of today. It is well known that Burke likes to build his teams “From the back out” meaning starting with the Defense and then the Offense and this is exactly what he has done here. Of the top 6 Defensemen likely to start on Oct 1st vs. Montreal, 3 of them – that’s 50% for all you math whizzes— were brought in by Burke. One half of the Goaltending tandem is a new Burke recruit. On offense there have not been as many changes but they have still had an impact. With the addition of Kessel, Bozak, Hanson, Orr, and Primeau, the Leafs offense has gotten more skilled and nastier. There is no doubt Burke is building this team after his own image, but at what cost?
By far Burkes biggest Acquisition was trading two first round picks and one Second round pick for Restricted Free Agent Phil Kessel. Understandably, with the Leafs Aforementioned history of trading first round picks and young prospects for old players such as Brian Leetch, and Owen Nolan, The Kessel trade ruffled more than a couple feathers as fans got flashbacks of trading picks that were eventually used to draft the likes of Roberto Luongo and Scott Neidermayer. This has caused people to question if Burke’s method of fast tracking the rebuilding process instead of growing the team the traditional way of Draft picks and Prospects is ill conceived.
I have liked just about every transaction the Burkemiester has made thus far. He has addressed the areas that needed attention (everywhere) and he has brought in a mixture of young and old, prospects and vets, skills and brute force, and I really don’t think there is informed hockey fan this side of the Ontario-Quebec border that would dispute the fact that the leafs are better now than they were at the end of last season. One trade that initially gave me pause was the Kessel deal. Initially I thought 1 first rounder was too much to pay so when I heard two first and a second I soiled myself, but the trade later grew on me, and I have learned to like it to an extent, for reasons I will not go into now as I have already written a three part saga on the Kessel trade and why I like it ( you can find it in the archives on the right).
But the real question is, if Burke had been more patient, could he have gotten someone comparable to Kessel, or even Kessel himself for less? Would we be a better team down the road if we waited one more draft to stock up on some more top notch prospects a la Nazem Kadri before we traded our first round picks away?
I think it is important to remember that with this new team, we are very unlikely to draft where we did the last two years, and thus the two first round draft picks we sent to Boston are going to be much more likely to be a Colaiacovo (drafted 17th) then a Schenn (drafted 5th).
It is my belief that Burke intends to recoup at least 1 first round pick or a couple of second round picks, for the simple reason that he has completely changed the scouting staff and the Leafs now boast one of the largest number of scouts of any NHL team as well as some of the most experienced. If Burke did not have plans to be drafting with meaningful draft picks, why bother retooling the scouts?
What I expect will happen is this:
Burke has now fast tracked the teams development to the point where they are likely to take a good run at making the playoffs, because of this, his bosses are happy and the fans are happy. He has also acquired all sorts of important pieces to the Stanley Cup puzzle (Kessel, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Gustavvson, etc) without losing any key personnel. He now has a glut of players both on offense and defense, and a deficiency of Draft picks for his new scouting staff. This gives him the opportunity to trade some players he sees as not necessary to the future of this franchise, I expect it will be people like Blake, Ponikarovski or Toskala, although I am not saying I want any of these players traded. I expect at the trade deadline we will see a flurry of moves which will get rid of some of the excess players, thus opening up the way for the current crop of promising youngsters i.e. Kadri, Bozak, Stahlberg, Blacker, ETC. In return we will get back some of the draft picks we lost, and hopefully we will be drafting higher than if we had just kept our own draft picks.
So in the end I believe he will still build the team through the draft, which is the proper way, but there will be and already has been be additions via different routes aswell, and this will allow us to start winning sooner, and to dust off those little Leaf flags that we put in our car windows during the playoffs.
What do you think? drop me a comment and net me know.
He is todays video, it is the winning goal of leafs vs senators game 1 in overtime of the 2001 playoffs. Make sure to notice all the leaf fans in ottawa.