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.