Leafs Rebuild Won’t Take Too Long

Trade Bait
Jake Gardiner had better epitomize Leafs’ managements patience going forward   (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Everyone talks about rebuilds in terms of years. Specifically: Five Years.

This probably stems from a Brian Burke quote, but either way, the Five Year Rebuild is a common phrase.

And, like most oft repeated buzz-words, it amounts to little more than meaningless jargon.

A million things could happen between now and the time the Leafs are competitive again. Who knows how it will play out? Morgan Rielly could turn into Erik Karlsson (he seems well on his way) and if the Leafs win the lottery and draft Connor McDavid, suddenly there’s a bit of a Sakic-Forseberg, Yzerman-Federov thing going on in Toronto with McDavid-Kadri – what was once the team’s primary weakness could be its strength by July.  Add in Peter Holland as a decent number three and you’re laughing.


In addition to whoever the Leafs end up drafting this year, Kadri and Rielly, there is also Kessel, JVR and Phaneuf.  Now, these guys might or might not get traded, but if they do, they’ll bring back, at the bare minimum, three years worth of top ten draft picks.

By my count if you add what you can get for the aforementioned three players with Rielly, Kadri, Nylander and this years’ pick, that makes seven top-ten picks on the roster, the oldest of which will be Nazem Kadri, who at 24 is just coming into his own.

Suddenly, Five Years seems like a bit of a ridiculous time-frame.  Bernier or Reimer – whoever they keep – is an (at worst) adequate starting goalie and both could potentially be superstars, as common theory suggests neither is at the age where goaltenders “truly find their game” quite yet.

Morgan Rielly [photo: Amy Irvin]
Morgan Rielly is easily the most talented defensemen the Leafs have had since Brian Berard[photo: Amy Irvin]

The Cupboard is Well Stocked

In addition to the previously mentioned group, the Leafs have Panik. He’s 24 and looks like he could be a keeper – big, talented, nice hands and mean. No reason this guy can’t pot you 20-25 from the third line.

Then there’s defensemen Stuart Percy (21) Matt Finn (20) Petter Granberg (20) Rinat Valiev (19) Tom Nillson (21) and Victor Loov (22).  Now, none of these guys are exactly Morgan Rielly, but that is six decent prospects and it’s likely one or two of them can become a part of the team moving forward and develop into above average NHL players.  Pedigree isn’t everything – Tomas Kaberle was an 8th round pick who became a nice top pairing defesenmen.

On Forward things are worse, but there is Connor Brown (21) Frederik Gauthier (19) Andreas Johnson (20) and Josh Leive (21).  Again, none of these guys are blue-chippers like Nylander, but they are young, talented lottery tickets. If even one of them excels in the NHL the rebuild we will be quicker than most believe.

Final Analysis

When it’s all said and done, the Five Year Rebuild and the steps taken by the team and the media to “prepare” us for the “hardships” ahead are all kind of ridiculous. The team has historically always sucked, so what’s so different about admitting it? Beyond that, even if you tear this team down to its foundation, there are still enough guys worth keeping/assets that we aren’t talking about a super long, drawn out process.  Like I said, they can have seven years worth of top-ten picks on the roster by July, it’s safe to assume at least one of each current forward and defensmen propsects will turn out, and they are set in net.

(Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Nylander is the one in the middle. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

This isn’t like early 2000’s Chicago, Washington or Pittsburgh or the Oilers cira ’08: it’s a team that already has a nice foundation and which if it gets lucky – i.e gets McDavid – could be competing for the Playoffs next year or, at the latest, the year after.  Even if they don’t (as is likely) get McDavid, they will still select a potential super-star in the draft this year and will be an exciting team before you know it.

Personally, I think the losing streak is one of the best things to ever happen to this franchise. I look forward into watching Kadri, Nylander, Rielly and Gardiner take over this team and to the excitement a high draft choice this June will bring.

Five years? Not likely, but who cares? If the team is committed to being patient, then that’s all I care about.  I love Kessel, but I will never get over seeing Tyler Seguin lead the league in scoring.

8 thoughts on “Leafs Rebuild Won’t Take Too Long”

  1. as a professional investor I keep my winners nd sell my losers…why would you sell winnik/santerelli/polak for a few draft choices given the leafs inability to draft and develop quality prospects……..you write how good Reilly is and his partner is POLAK …… I would lose franson/phnuef as the leafs have better prospects on defence than offensively….get rid of those existing and potential contracts……loved you article on getting rid of clarkson send him to Calgary and why trade kessel when he is one of the best scorers to draft another POTENTIAL scorer when you already have one….fine him a centre maybe Holland? kadri doesnt mess

  2. You do know that any draft picks from this year will likely spend the 1st year in the minors…or two years…or three, right? You do know that Phaneuf will go for perhaps a low second round pick and we take back salary too, right? I mean, this is the salary cap era (30 teams in the league, not 14…check it out man!). Kessel’s a first round pick but not top eight because it’s elementary Watson, the teams with top picks are rebuilding and Kessel isn’t on their radar screen. If they’re lucky he isn’t even on their TV screen. The Leafs have no dominant centres, no number one D men (yet) and frankly can’t afford Fransen while the Pylon and the Whine-On remain on the books. Sad but true. Nonis has a brain but his results aren’t there, and Kessel, Phaneuf, Clarkson, Lupul and Bozak combine for approximately 45% of the cap. Ouch! That’s an expensive hat you’ve got Dave, however did you afford it? The rebuild needs rules: no one over $6M, no contract longer than 5 years, and no less than 10% of the cap space always kept in hand for a rainy day in May. Or June as it one day might appear a possibility. The writer is bereft of brains like the Leafs are bereft of passion or the ability to make the playoffs for at least three years.

  3. Really John? I’m sorry man. I just read 3 of your Leafs articles. You don’t really have a clue man. Hockey writing is not your thing…sorry…

  4. This is just classic “James Tanner” (the author) – look at his prior posts he is just an overly optimistic leafs fan – you and all my friends bud

  5. Honestly, this is just a classic Leafs fans view. Overly optimistic as usual. Some nice pieces in place sure, but this is so contingent on you getting McDavid which is so unlikely for you to “make the playoffs next year.” and comparing McDavid and Kadri to Sakic-Forsberg lolllll. Even if you stock 3 first round picks with the departure of Kessel, Phaneuf and JVR this article talks as if they can walk in and be first and second line NHL players which just doesn’t happen very often if you look at the stats. You can hope though I guess.

  6. Kessel/JVR/Phaneuf aren’t bringing back “three years of top ten picks”. The Leafs would likely get a first-rounder for each of Kessel and JVR, but teams destined for a bottom-ten finish aren’t going to be dealing those top-ten picks for these three guys. It would make ZERO sense for a team like the Coyotes or Devils to trade one of their guaranteed top-ten picks for a bloated contract like Kessel or Phaneuf. What team would consciously want their younger players around a deadbeat like Kessel? He sets an awful example of a “professional athlete” – GMs and coaches don’t want impressionable players around a someone who has a poor work ethic and indifference to team commitment.

    The Leafs will be lucky to get a contract with less term and/or money for Phaneuf. The word is out with this guy and for all the accolades that some are so quick to shower on him, it says a lot that MLSE approved Shanahan’s request to begin the rebuild with “valuable” players like Kessel, Phaneuf, Lupul, Bozak, etc.

    Bernier and Reimer aren’t even in the same neighborhood of the same vicinity of being considered “superstars” – get a grip already. Reimer hasn’t even been able to prove that he can be a reliable starter, why would anyone actually believe that he has the potential to be one of the best in the league? He’s been given many opportunities and he’s failed.

    “The Cupboard is Well Stocked”? *sigh* The cupboard is almost bare. All the guys you mention are career major junior/AHL players, outside of maybe Finn, Gauthier and Nylander. Finn projects to be a top-six defenceman, Gauthier a bottom-six centreman and Nylander a top-six winger. The rest of them are depth call-ups for injuries. Tom Nilsson? Andreas Johnson? Like, who?? Going through the depth chart on The Hockey News and listing names doesn’t make them great prospects or eventual everyday NHLers. The Leafs have all kinds of character players in their farm system, but aside from Nylander, there’s absolutely no high-end talent. Players such as Nilsson and Johnson will get sniffs of NHL play when injuries occur, but they’re not going to make an impact at all in the grand scheme of things.

    Realistically, the Leafs are looking at 5-7 years before they climb back into relevancy for contendership. Trading players like Kessel, Bozak, Kadri, Franson and Phaneuf will leave massive holes in their lineup. Guys like Leivo and Percy will likely be with the Leafs next season, but it’s going to be very, very ugly for some time. It’d be smart if the Leafs avoided making foolish signings to UFAs like Winnik, Santorelli and Booth if they seek anything more than a two-year deal at a relatively reasonable cap hit ($3M/annual or lower).

    I will absolutely agree that they need to be patient for any of this to be worth it. If they’re going to offer up Kessel and Phaneuf and others only to sign Kadri and Franson to long-term extensions, then what’s the point? Get back picks for these two and clear out enough space so that when the time comes to make smart free agent signings or offer contracts to worthy pieces, their payroll won’t be bloated and handcuffed by inadequate expectations for “core” players.

    The “cupboard” is EXTREMELY bare. Match it up against a depth system like the Sabres or Red Wings or Jets and you’ll see how inferior the Leafs are.

Comments are closed.