Toronto Maple Laughs

It has been 42 long years since the Toronto Maple Leafs have even made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals and it doesn’t look like they are close to breaking the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL. In past years the Toronto Maple Leafs have had teams that have been close to Stanley cup teams but came up just short. Recently though the Maple Leafs, one of the most storied NHL franchises, have been perennial bottom-feeders. For bottom place teams the NHL draft, which takes place tonight, is usually the best place to start building a foundation for the future. However, unlike other teams of their kind, the Maple Leafs under GM Brian Burke have chosen not to take the rebuilding route. Despite his best efforts to make the Maple Leafs an immediate winner, it was and still is apparent that Brian Burke did indeed make the wrong decision and now there is no turning back.

Brian Burke has stated numerous times that he is not going to rebuild and that he strongly believes the Maple Leafs are a team that has the right pieces in place to build a winning franchise immediately. With this school of thought, at the beginning of last season Brian Burke decided to deal his 2010 and 2011 first round picks and his 2010 second round pick for Phil Kessel. Toronto ended up finishing second last in the league and subsequently the draft lottery provided the Boston Bruins with the #2 pick overall in the 2010 draft. The #2 pick this year is either going to be Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin who both qualify as very good #1 overall picks. Instead of being able to draft a young, cheap franchise player to build around, the Maple Leafs have a quality, expensive (5 years $27 milllion) 1st line forward. Also, as mentioned they do not have their first round pick next year, which will probably end up being another top 5 pick.

For me the key to building a good franchise comes from investing your resources in scouting and developing young players. In the new salary cap NHL, having quality inexpensive youth is the key to developing a good team. Obviously Brian Burke doesn’t feel the same way.

Phil Kessel is arguably worth 2 first round picks but he is definitely not worth 2 most likely high first round picks. The problem with giving up high first round draft picks for a proven scorer is that there is nobody for a guy of his calibre to play with. I would like to know what the logic is behind bringing in a young, proven, expensive and a supposed franchise player when there are no quality pieces to surround him with. If you have no pieces in place then the most logical way of finding quality pieces would probably be through the draft. However, when you’re constantly giving up your future there is almost no way you can build around a supposed franchise forward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs do have some good young pieces. For example, Mikhail Grabovski, Viktor Stalberg, and Luke Schenn but these guys are not the players that are going to carry a team . Bringing in Dion Phaneuf for a number of middle-of-the-road players is probably the right decision at this point. The initial problem was overpaying for players such as Jeff Finger and Francois Beauchemin who, because of their age, had hit their ceiling before ever coming to Toronto. Building a team around Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and no name Joe is not going to get the job done.

The inability for Brian Burke to be patient has made it so his team doesn’t stand a chance of being a real contender in the years to come. Following in the footsteps of the Chicago Blackhawks’ front office would have been more sensible decision. The Blackhawks’ four core pieces, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews were all acquired through the draft. In addition to those 4, the Blackhawks also drafted Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish, and Dustin Byfuglien who were all intergral players from their Stanley Cup winning team. It is also evident that their extra money poured into scouting allowed them to steal away Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg in trades for virtually nothing.
After the Blackhawks finally had the right young pieces in place, they were then able to sign a couple of major free agents in Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa. I guess patience eventually only led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory, but what is that worth anyways?

With the NHL draft going on today and the Toronto Maple Leafs without their top first round pick it looks like it’s going to be another disappointing season for the team and their fans. The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have the correct pieces in place right now and I don’t think that they will be able to find them through free agency or trades. It is possible that Maple Leaf teams of the future could slip into the 7 or 8 seeds because of the weakness of the Eastern Conference but Brian Burke has set his team up for a future of mediocrity.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at I’m now on twitter! Follow me at

Also check out howiGit’s blog, a guaranteed great read every time.

About Chris Ross
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11 Responses to Toronto Maple Laughs

  1. I think it’s obvious that the Chicago Blackhawks are a great example of a great team that took the time to rebuild. With that being said it’s almost unfair to compare them to the Maple Leafs, haha.

    I don’t think Toronto is doing too bad of a job at rebuilding. They have a very solid blue line on the team, they’re goalies between the pipes are capable of carrying them through games and they’ve got plenty of toughness. Only thing left to work on is offense.

    At this point, Phil Kessel is the best forward they have on the team. However, the Leafs have a few young guys like Nikolai Kulemin, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, etc. who are going to be big players for them in a few years. The Leafs have plenty of cap space for this year’s free agency period which means they can go out and get some good forwards that could potentially do well with Phil Kessel.

    I think in a few years the Leafs will be a legit playoff team that is capable of contendig for the Stanley Cup as underdogs. Whether or not they will win it is still up for question, but I do think they are going in the right direction when it comes to putting together a good team.

  2. LeafMan says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for visiting my site at Leafs for Life (I should say our site because it is for Leaf fans). I will take a wait and see approach, when Burke is finished putting his footprint on this team then I will judge, I know a lot of Leaf fans that want the draft and develop method and there are others that think a hybrid of draft/trade and sign will work, I will reserve judgment when I see all the pieces in place that Burke thinks will work.

  3. Sports Juice says:

    Good analysis of the issues. I’m a Leaf fan as well as an oilers fan.

    I like what Burke has done, though nit having that#2 pick is tough. He has two good goalies, 3 or 4 quality defenseman and Kessel. Not bad for one year.

    I think his logic was being able to tap into the US college market and get the Monster, he already in essence had his first round picks already.

    I think the leafs will make the playoffs next year

  4. mycokes says:

    Chris, I have to say that I completely disagree with your article. Though it was well written, I don’t think Chicago is the correct blueprint to be following. Pittsburgh or Washington, maybe, but Chicago is in salary cap hell. Though I wouldn’t do the KEssel trade at this point, rather I would try to do the same trade for Bobby Ryan, at the time, it was the best move. I am not upset or disappointed with the Kessel trade though there is no denying that it stings to not be making the second pick in the draft. If Beauchemin can find chemistry with Phaneuf, his contract will be a bargain. There is no telling whether that will happen, but there are some hopeful signs.

    Also, for every Pittsburgh and Washington, there is an Islanders and a Florida. So building via the draft is not guaranteed to work.

  5. Carson McKee says:

    Thanks for your comments on my blog Chris – I’m certainly not an expert on hockey operations, but I did live in Toronto for 10 years (1999-2009)… There are still a lot of “ifs” and “wait and see” scenarios. I think there is no formula or “right way” to build a team. Look to those teams who have done well year in year out in the past 10 years, or at least post-lockout. You see 2 paterns: returning contenders like Detroit, Buffalo or New Jersey and the 1-and-done teams like Carolina, Edmonton, and Anaheim. Winning the Stanley Cup is far from easy and sports is a business of skill, luck and sound planning. When those things all meet at the same point… well that’s what the magic is all about….

  6. Ken Socrates says:

    Building through the draft works when good scouting is in place that makes the process work. For so many years the Bruins went cheap when it came to funding their scouting staff and, for so many years, they came up empty in the draft. It wasn’t until they started to wake up and smell the coffee that guys like Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic and, yes, Kessel started to come through the system.

    It’s a basic fact of life in most modern professional sports and the NHL is no different. The value in your team, the ability to build, comes via the strength of your drafting, signing and minor league development. That’s where you get a) the great players to build your franchise and b) the trading currency to be able to improve that franchise when the right time comes. Good prospects will make your team better by their play or the established players they can bring in trade.

    Sounds simple, eh? A lot of GM’s across the league right now are wishing it was.

    Good stuff, Chris.

  7. sensay says:

    “Phil Kessel is arguably worth 2 first round picks but he is definitely not worth 2 most likely high first round picks”
    Nail on the head.
    It’ll hurt even more in a few years time.
    Great post, keep it up.

  8. Thanks for the kind words re:, Chris. I more or less agree with you, with some caveats. I think Kessel is great, but it would have been a better price if only one first rounder was dealt, not two. Finger was signed by Fletcher, so I can’t blame Burke for that one. I think Beauchemin will turn out to be worth the money, but Komisarek – not so much. The East being what it is, the Buds can definitely make the playoffs in any given year – especially now that we should have somewhat reliably decent goaltending (the Toskala sieve is finally gone!), but they don’t look like they have the building blocks for a big run. On the bright side, they’ve upped their scouting staff.

  9. The Leafs are headed in the right direction and Brian Burke will get them there. But as the team currently is, I imagine they are still at least 2-3 years away from being more than a fringe 7 or 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. The lack of draft picks hurts, but luckily Burke is one of the best at signing college guys to help offset the lack of picks. With Giguere and Gustavsson, they have good enough goaltending to stay competitive, but need to add scorers to help Kessel.

  10. davepoleck says:

    Thanks for the comments

    I said it from the beginning (…. Brian Burke is the wrong man to GM the Leafs because he seems absolutely unwilling to build through the draft, and that is exactly what Toronto needs. A lot of his credit comes from Anaheim, where Perry and Getzlaf were already in place when he got there. His biggest acquisitions in the draft have been the Sedin’s and Bobby Ryan; neither of them have been past the second round.

    Instead, Burke’s stubborness is causing him to try to do the EXACT same thing that he did in Anaheim, sign developed players out of college. While it worked quite well there, like I said, Getzlaf and Perry were already in place, and he benefited from having three top tier signees in Selanne, Niedermayer and Pronger. There are no Getzlaf’s or Perry’s in the Leaf’s org, and there are no top tier free agents worth signing. So it boggles my mind that he is still trying that route because if they do pan out like Penner and McDonald did for the Ducks, the Leafs won’t be able to afford everyone…just like Anaheim wasn’t.

    The Kessel trade. Don’t even get me started. How can anyone say that Burke isn’t arrogant and impatient when he makes a deal that ONLY a competing team should make, but then ends up in last place in the Conference. How could a GM be so off on his preception of his own team? The answer is that he is a one-dimensional GM. It sickens me that they traded what they did for a guy who had went from a top prospect to not being worth keeping by the Bruins. Obviously there had to be something wrong when a team wants to trade their 22 year old 35 goal scorer. Sure he wanted a lot, but talent wise, I’d take Kessel over Ryder and Sturm together. And then they try to sell this market that he is a franchise player!?!? A franchise player doesn’t get traded at 22.

    Then they try to sell us that Phaneuf is the same thing. 10 points in 26 games later.

    I’m a Wings’ fan living in TO…and this is how mad it gets me.

  11. Pingback: Brian Burke is Too Confusing « Painting the Black

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