It sure didn’t take long for the pundits to start questioning how much rebuilding the Leafs should do in the wake of their hiring of Mike Babcock.
The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur said that Mike Babcock can make Phaneuf and Kessel Better, “I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them sticks around,” he said.
Former goalie J.S Gigure said he’d love to see Kessel under Babcock, and last night I saw a feature on Sports Centre saying pretty much the same thing.
Besides those guys, I’ve heard many people suddenly change their minds about what the Leafs off season plans are.
My response: No No No No No No and no.
Tear. It. Down
Jeeze. One day. That’s all it took to go from rebuilding to “Hey, maybe this team isn’t so bad.”
So please, allow me to review:
The Leafs are a team that have two players they are committed to paying roughly $16 million dollars to over the next eight or so years, and even with the Clarkson deal off the books, they still don’t have a great salary cap structure, nor do they have a good enough prospect base, currently, where a couple of top picks in the next few drafts can add enough to the “core” of this team to make it respectable.
The situation is, frankly, untenable.
If the Leafs do not move their tradable parts for younger assets, they will be in a situation where they aren’t good enough to win and have no way of improving short of trading future draft picks. Doing that is the path to competing for 8th place and drafting so low you never really get much better. They fired Dave Nonis, so why would they stick with his plan?
It’s what’s happened for the last decade where the Leafs have made the Playoffs once and drafted in the top three zero times.
Mike Babcock or not, the Leafs have no depth at centre (Kadri is their only for-sure above-replacement level C in the whole organization) and no depth at defense, where even if Rielly suddenly becomes an instant #1, they still have the hands-down worst group in the league.
So, who cares what Mike Babcock can do with Phil kessel? Who cares what he can do with JVR or Dion Phaneuf ? Or Bernier? Because the only way to make the Leafs better is to trade those players.
It really will take five years before the Leafs are good if they keep Kessel, JVR, Dion and Bernier and add to them slowly through the draft, and by that time, they’ll have declined so much they won’t be able to help the team much anyways.
Remember how Edmonton mismanaged their assets when it was clear they were going to be poor for a while? They ended up with a third and fifth for Ales Hemsky because they didn’t move him right away when they started their rebuild.
Right now the Leafs have Kadri, Rielly, Gardiner, Nylander and whoever they draft this year, as far as their core going forward. They also have Percy, Leipsic, Brown and some other potential NHLers on the farm. But what they don’t have is any way to add players to that core if they keep their tradable assets now.
In a best case scenario, are the Leafs a Cup Contender if they keep their four main trade chips and every one of their prospects I just listed work out favorably and have good NHL careers? Not even close.
So it’s obvious what they have to do: trade all four of those guys for prospects and picks.
Doing so will give you a minimum of four first round picks or the equivalent in young players.
It really is a no-brainer. So, to all the media pundits suggesting the Leafs might want to see what how those guys perform under Mike Babcock, I say that your optimism is appreciated, but it’s a bad idea all day everyday.
The Leafs have their coach. The next step is to clear-cut the roster and build around some kids.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.