“Leafs are finally on the road to recovery.”

“Leafs are finally on the road to recovery.” by Tony Rose

I’ve read on some sports forums and web sites that the “premium” draft picks given up in the trade for Phil Kessel were too much. But if we stop and think for a moment and look at his 21 goals and 20 assist for 41 points in 51 games the trade is justified. If we extend this further, knowing that he plays against the top defensive pair of each team on most nights without a true 1st line center or grinder to get the puck into his hands, we can appreciate how well he’s done. I look forward to an immediate increase in production once he gets line mates that are on his level of play and talent. He is an established 22 year old sniper that has already produced 36 goals and 24 assist in 70 games with the Boston Bruins the previous year. I personally don’t think a first round pick (if the draft history is correct) would produce that much even if they did make it to the big club.

Brian Burke has done what I believe is a marvelous job in regaining draft pick equivalents through the acquisitions of college players and landing the “Monster” Jonas Gustavsson. These moves that are beyond the scope of the draft more or less justify what he gave up for Phil. Yes it would have been great to still have the first and second picks considering their 2nd to last overall position in the standings. What makes it easier to digest is the play of Viktor Stalberg, Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Rickard Wallin, and especially Carl Gunnarsson and Jonas Gustavsson who has shown at times flashes of brilliance that allow us to think that he will be among the cream of the goal tending crop one day.

Another remarkable move was the landing of Dion Phaneuf. If you would have told me that Dion Phaneuf would be skating in our end of the ice wearing the blue and white at the beginning of the year I would have answered that I could refer you my psychiatrist and that I would chip in to pay for the first session.

Looking at the defensive core made up of Francois Beauchemin, Garnet Exelby, Carl Gunnarsson, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Van Ryn, I’d say the Leafs are comparable to any in the NHL and pretty well set for the future also.

Every team that dwells in mediocrity or that is a bottom feeder for many years does not suddenly overnight become a contender. The Toronto Maple Leafs needed to rebuild and rebuild badly. The road to recovery started with the hiring of Brian Burke, maybe the only managerial move this organization got right in the last 15 years.

When Brian took over Toronto had a very porous defence and an even worse goal tending situation where goalies allowed soft goals on a regular basis that just sucked the lifeblood right out of the team. Thankfully this has been addressed with maybe a need for tweaking in net until Jonas shows he is truly ready for the big stage. I’m still not fully convinced that Jean-Sebastien Giguere will hold the fort until Jonas is ready but time will tell.

Where the Leafs really hurt right now is their forwards but looking at the roster we can see that this will be taken care of also. Many of the so called “unproductive” forwards that did not pan out or never lived up to the hype that followed them are gone. I’m still in shock that Jason Blake’s contract was done away with and that someone actually took Vessa Toskala off our hands. There will be other UFA’s that will not be resigned also, just look at the roster below.

Player Compensation

Name Pos. 2009-2010 Status
Francois Beauchemin D $4,200,000 UFA 2012/13
Tyler Bozak C $875,000 RFA 2011/12
Luca Caputi LW $585,000 RFA 2011/12
Garnet Exelby D $1,725,000 UFA 2010/11
Jeff Finger D $3,500,000 UFA 2012/13
Jean-Sebastien Giguere G $6,000,000 UFA 2011/12
Mikhail Grabovski C $2,750,000 UFA 2012/13
Carl Gunnarsson D $630,000 RFA 2011/12
Jonas Gustavsson G $900,000 RFA 2010/11
Christian Hanson RW $875,000 RFA 2010/11
Matt Jones D $575,000 ???
Tomas Kaberle D $4,250,000 UFA 2011/12
Phil Kessel C $4,500,000 UFA 2013-14
Michael Komisarek D $4,500,000 UFA 2014/15
Nikolai Kulemin RW $850,000 RFA 2010/11
Jamie Lundmark C $600,000 UFA 2010/11
John Mitchell C $500,000 RFA 2010/11
Colton Orr RW $1,000,000 UFA 2013/14
Dion Phaneuf D $6,500,000 UFA 2014/15
Wayne Primeau C $1,400,000 UFA 2010/11
Luke Schenn D $875,000 RFA 2011/12
Fredrik Sjostrom RW $750,000 UFA 2011/12
Viktor Stalberg LW $715,000 RFA 2011/12
Mike Van Ryn D $3,350,000 UFA 2010/11
Rickard Wallin C $800,000 UFA 2010/11

Salary Figures from NHLPA.com.
Player Status from NHLNumbers.com

All teams that are in a true rebuild mode go through the pangs of having to grow a bond between the players and find the chemistry needed amongst them. This takes the right combination of management, coaches, players, and time, sometimes a lot of time. Toronto has lost many a game this year as this rebuilding process moves forward, I firmly believe that if Brian Burke maintains his course of getting rid of unproductive players and allows the youth to mature as NHL capable players they will recover and do it in record time. The Toronto Maple Leafs may be on a downward spiral that is reminiscent of the scene from “Journey to the Center of the Earth” but it seems that Brian Burke has opened some sort of lava valve beneath the Leafs and it looks like they are on the way out of that downward spiral and finally on the road to recovery.

They’ll have the cap space to get a true #1 center and #1 winger to fit along side of Kessel this summer. I firmly believe that within 2 years the Leafs will be a competitive team that will have to be reckoned with in the NHL.

The Hockey Writers

  • http://www.TMLForum.com Tony Rose

    I agree to an extent.

    We are so accustomed to the quick fixes MLSE has tried for so many years and we have continually been promised that things will be done the right way.

    Now that Burke has come in and actually begun that process, you see so much panic within Leafs Nation and the media to some extent on why the Leafs are the way they are.

    The long awaited journey to recovery has finally begun, it’s a fact, enjoy the ride.

    • Jay

      That wouldn’t be me though. I have no problem with dismantling the whole junk pile and starting from scratch. I just think Burke’s doing it *very badly*.

      The one thing you protect is your draft picks, because when you bottom out, you use them for two or three years to get better players than the Leafs maybe have *ever* had, certainly in our lifetime (and mine goes back to the mid-50s). Without that, you cannot build a perennial contender. Ever.

      That’s what Burke’s given away. That and thinking there’s a point in trying to get to the playoffs in the short term, instead of stockpiling 2-3 years worth of super top draft picks. Like Malkin/Crosby/Stall. Or Potvin/Trottier/Bossy. Or Yzerman and Lidstrom.

      Boston will be thrilled to be handed this opportunity without even having to bottom out first.

      This is not “the long awaited journey”. This is further into the abyss.

  • Jay

    But there are some steps you have to take backwards to move forward. Probably the Phaneuf deal was one. The Kessel deal is the one that takes your 3-year task and makes it take 8 years or more. Just mind-boggling. Kessel would make a good “last piece of the puzzle” if you were a perennial contender trying to win the Stanley Cup. And just watch, in 3 years, during the next rebuild, someone will trade a 3rd round pick to get Kessel from the Leafs. Meanwhile, given their own 3 years to ramp up, just watch Boston become the same kind of perennial contender the Red Wings are, and the Oilers, Canadiens, Islanders, etc. became.

  • Jay

    Mind-boggling. The Leafs didn’t need a sniper. They needed *six great players*. Burke spent likely *three* of them to pick up an average-plus skater and shooter who is not a complete player and never will be. He spent every other usable asset he has to get *one* good defenseman (Phaneuf). Now he doesn’t have *any* chips to cash until 2012, and he needs *five great players* to become a contender. Free agency? What idiot would want to play in *this* mess? Wait for the kids to mature? It’s strongly unlikely *any* of them but Schenn will ever mature to better than average-minus, especially coming of age in this cesspool. Maybe Burke thinks he can give Kaberle to Boston to get Taylor Hall back, like he thought he could trade Kaberle to the Islanders for Tavares? And Thom, what are you thinking about “solid upgrades on defense”? Exelby is a downgrade from every defensemen in the system, Leafs or Marlies. You say the Leafs have “one of the best defenses in the league” … sorry, I call that as a hallucination. Leafs have given up more goals than everyone but Edmonton, who’s played an extra game. Credentials? There’s a squirrel wandering around outside my window gathering nuts. *He* could do a better job of staffing the Leafs. C’mon! I’ve been watching this team since the defense contained Brewer, Horton, Stanley, Baun and Kelly sometimes. This team couldn’t keep an *elephant* out of the net and couldn’t put a puck in the ocean.

    • http://www.TMLForum.com Tony Rose

      Rome was not built in a day and the longest of journey’s begins with the first step.

  • Thom Mason

    I dont understand why people in the hockey media are dumping on Brian Burke. He traded for a true sniper in the form of Phil Kessel(who has had his goal and point totals go up since he entered the league), robbed Calgary of their franchise defensemen in Dion Phaneuf for nothing much them supporting cast offense and role players, dumped bad contracts (Blake, Toskala) to Anahiem for J.S. Giguere, made solid upgrades on defense through free agent signings(Komisarek, Beauchemin, Exelby), and recruited some prospects through the NCAA He has basically made the Leafs over and they now have one of the best defenses in the league, two solid goalies, and some foundations at foward. Yet some of the gas bags on TSN, Sportsnet, etc still dont think thats good enough and are questioning his credentials. What gives?