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The Time Bomb in Toronto

There is a time bomb ticking away in Toronto. And its inevitability is…well, inevitable.

The Leafs’ Cup drought is going to extend beyond 50 years. How could it not?

The Leafs exist in a world with Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews. Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf. Mike Richards and Steven Stamkos.

Datsyuk is the only player above not drafted in the first-round. But ask any GM in the NHL about which forward they would pick first to win the Stanley Cup today and Datsyuk would surely chalk up a few votes, regardless of how obvious a choice Crosby or Ovechkin may seem.

Tonight the Leafs head into GM Place in Vancouver to take on a team that has 10 former 1st Rounders in their line up. Ironically, two of those 1st Rounders happen to be Henrik and Daniel Sedin, a duo that Brian Burke went out of his way to secure in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

In Toronto, Brian Burke adopted almost the opposite approach with the Kessel trade. It’s a loss. Move on folks. Nothing new to see.

But what is apparent is that the core the Maple Leafs have in place of Kessel, Schenn, Kadri, Phaneuf and Gustavsson will not be able to make any sort of run in the playoffs. They are just not enough.

Trade and Free Agency seem like meek options at best to strengthen said core. No team is going to part with a player like Jeff Carter for Tomas Kaberle anymore. And free agency most often involves overpaying for players – a recipe for disaster in the salary cap world (see Komisarek).

The draft is the only viable option. The fact that the Leafs will not have a pick in the 1st Round this year again means that the Leafs will not be able to properly contend for the Cup till at least 2015 and that is being extremely generous.

The time bomb that is ticking away will inevitably go off before that.

The first and obvious domino to fall will be Ron Wilson. Brian Burke will have to fire Wilson regardless of how much he claims to support his Coach.

Roster changes will come too. Brian Burke can’t afford to not make moves and wait to build through the draft – he already has too many chips in the pot to walk away from his less-than-5-year-plan-that-is-going-to-take-more-than-5-years-anyway plan.

Odds are no matter what Burke does, he will be dismissed before the Leafs are ready to put a competitive product on the ice.

What is unfortunate is that the Toronto Maple Leafs will continue to be the most valuable franchise in all of hockey, regardless of the fact that the drought is going to extend beyond 50 years. Fans will continue to expend time, money and energy on this team.

But since when has the fruitlessness of such investment ever stopped Leaf Nation?

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: brian+burke, ron+wilson


VooX's avatar

Great stuff, Shiv.  On point.

Posted by VooX from Behind the Bar in the Hasek Club Car on 12/18/10 at 05:46 PM ET


I forwarded this email to a friend and I’d like to post his comments for you to respond to, if you have the time:

“I am as frustrated as anyone when it comes to the Leafs-to the point where I feel no strong compunction to defend them to any significant degree. That said, and with respect to the central argument that the Leafs suck right now and should have built through the draft (a point I agree with), this blog is off the mark in my opinion.

This blogger may, in fact, be correct about the Leafs but he, nevertheless, makes a poor argument. Firstly, his inclusion of Pavel Datsyuk detracts directly from his argument that the only way to win in the NHL is to accumulate first round draft picks (I think he just wanted to name drop Diddy because he has a crush on him-who doesn’t have a crush on him?).

Secondly, he discusses how Vancouver is his case in point with 10 first round draft picks in their lineup. Here, he also misses the point; it’s not about how many first rounders you have, it’s about the quality of those first rounders-the Leafs currently have 8 first round draft picks in their lineup. Obviously then, that stat is meaningless.

He then moves on to call the Phil Kessel trade a “loss.” While there is no question that the trade looks horrible right now and could certainly end up a massive loss, it’s too early to know. It is possible that Seguin could never reach his potential in the NHL and, even if he does, Kessel could still emerge as the better player. And while it certainly looks like Boston is likely to receive another top 5 pick this year, that is far from determined (although granted it looks REALLY bad). The implications of the trade are far from decided at this point and our blogger acts like its a certainty.

If his point on the Kessel trade is tenuous, then his point about the Leaf’s core not being good enough is ridiculous. All of the 5 players he mentioned are under 25 years old (Kadri and Schenn are 20!), they are playing in one of the leagues most demanding market and have NO veteran stars on which to rely. Can we possibly wait a few years before we throw these players on the proverbial scrap heap of the NHL’s failed stars? No one is saying that Kadri is the next Stamkos, he may be a bust, but give him some time to prove it.

Our blogger then goes on to speculate on the jobs of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson and suggests that there is no chance the Leafs will compete for a Cup before 2015. Wilson may very well be fired and the Leafs may not be competitive before Burke’s time runs out but this blogger is clearly biased. If he ends up being correct it will be because the blind squirrel finally found the acorn and not because of astute judgment.”

Posted by m96m on 12/21/10 at 04:57 PM ET

Shiv's avatar

Thank you for that detailed post m96m. Give thanks to your friend who was kind enough to write such a detailed response as well. Here are my thoughts on the post:

1)  The point about Datsyuk – He is the exception not the rule. The point of including him was to pin point that teams with cores capable of competing for the cup are most often built through the draft and for no other reason.
2)  Vancouver’s 10 first round picks were brought up mainly to further accentuate the fact that contenders are built with top round picks but the point you make about having “quality” picks is just as much the point being made there. The biggest thing in bringing Vancouver up was to highlight that as GM of the Canucks, Burke went out of his way to BRING IN the pick that let him land both the twins, whereas on the Leafs he dealt away two 1st rounders to land Kessel. If you refer to point 1, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are two of the 10 first round picks the Canucks have in their line up. Luongo being the third (acquired by trade in a STEAL by the Canucks). Kesler being another. Those 4 players constitute the solid core of the Canucks forecasted to be Cup Contenders this year. The Leafs do not have such a core. Schenn is unbelievable yes. But unlike the Sedins, Luongo or Kesler, Kessel is not a player to build a cup contender around despite being a top 5 1st round pick <—this is key.
3)  Saying that Seguin could technically not pan out is a bad argument. This is not up for debate. Seguin is more complete a player than Kessel. Not only that but he is a dynamic Center. Look at the championship teams for the last 30 years. Majority of them have a top dynamite Center as their core player not a winger. But it stretches beyond that. The Leafs will most likely have given up another top 5 pick on top of Seguin and Jared Knight. Couturier, Larsson, Landeskog, Murphy and Nugent-Hopkins are all going to be studs. When you do the math there, the Leafs have simply lost that trade. And by a large margin. This is virtually a certainty.
4)  Kadri could be amazing. He is hope for Leaf Nation. If he can become a top line player then indeed there is something to look forward to because he would give the leafs a more dynamic forward than Kessel. Kadri hitting his peak potential could mean a franchise player. Of course, this is not a certainty unlike the Kessel trade being a loss. Kadri needs time. He has a lot of things he needs to work on, especially positioning and his play on the defensive side of the puck. He is just not there yet. And may never get there.
5)  Keeping all these factors in mind you have to ask yourself, what is the horizon for the Leafs icing a competitor. Kadri needs at least 2-3 years to become a force. Schenn will steadily improve as a mainstay on defense yes. But other than that, Kessel himself cannot carry the load. Phaneuf and the d-core are good but many in the NHL are better/just as good especially come playoff time. Not only that but where are those additional pieces going to come from that are not pseudo 2nd/3rd liners? Free agency, again, is very risky. Every year a new class of bad contracts are signed and every year players underperform what they have been forecasted to do. Trade opportunities are lacking too and the minute a game breaking player becomes available, there is a free-for-all because in the Cap/Post-Lockout world, game breaking players are almost impossible to acquire. This means giving up the farm to get a player who may or may not have the type of impact you want them to have. The draft is the low risk – high return method but the Leafs don’t have a 1st rounder till 2012. And 1st round picks take at least 2-3 years to become solid players.
6)  So this brings us again to the question about how long it will take the Leafs to ice a contender. Anything earlier than 2015 is HIGHLY unlikely and not a 8-ball reading prediction. It is actually the logical conclusion. We in Leaf Nation – myself included – would love to believe that Burke can turn this team into a contender in the next 3 years but the odds of that are slim.
7)  And if everything above is true, I ask the question: In Leaf Nation can Ron Wilson survive even one more season of being this bad regardless of what he has to work with let alone 3 to 5? Can Burke especially after the blunder that was the Kessel trade? Odds are they are both fighting a battle they will not be able to finish. GM/Coach hirings and firings are PR moves as much as hockey moves as well. Firing Wilson creates a new news cycle that calms fans down a bit and add time to the clock kind of like a time extension when you finish a lap in a racing video game. Firing a GM adds even more time because the entire organizations philosophy can change. Given that the wait for the cup is going to be this long, then, odds are the Maple Leafs will have to fire Wilson for sure. Burke will get more time but his days are numbered ESPECIALLY when he stated when he took over that his plan was not a 5-year plan. We are at the half-way point of that time line, yet this team is not at the half way point of where it wanted to be. Burke himself stated he wanted to make the playoffs last year. Year two is looking like a replica of year one. Like it or not, accountability falls on Burke.

Posted by Shiv from Toronto on 12/22/10 at 03:31 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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