“Pittsburgh model? My ass.”
Said by then general manager Brian Burke. Some people labelled him crazy, some people thrust him into the idiot chamber.
That was his reaction last year after fielding a question regarding the Maple Leafs rebuild. The Leafs were not winning, and neither was Burke’s strategy of steam rolling the team into the playoffs.
On the flip side, the Edmonton Oilers were receiving a ton of praise for their rebuilding process. They decided to follow the “Pittsburgh model” and build through winning “lotteries.” Winning they did, having now picked first overall in the draft for the last three years. A championship team for many years was quickly coming together, while the Maple Leafs seemed to be taking steps backwards.
The storyline between these two teams was always interesting. Two very bad teams taking completely opposite routes to build a championship team. The Oilers with the draft, and the Leafs via trades and free agency. When the question arose, “Which team would you rather have?” the vast majority hastily picked Edmonton.
But fast forward to today, neither team has yet to make the playoffs ever since presenting their blueprint for success four years ago. However, one team will make it this year.
The Maple Leafs mustered a point in the shootout against the New York Rangers despite going 24:33 minutes without registering a single shot on goal. The Oilers lost at home against the Phoenix Coyotes in a game with significant playoff implications.
Toronto currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference, seven points clear of the ninth seed. Meanwhile, Edmonton sits twelfth, four points back of the eighth seed. According to SportsClubStats.com, the Leafs have a 99.8% chance at making the playoffs while the Oilers have a 2.5% chance.
Despite the Leafs loss yesterday night, the atmosphere across social media felt like Toronto won. That can be credited to the enthusiasm in Leafs fans, since they will finally get a chance to see their beloved in the playoffs. On the flip side, an Oilers fan tweeted to me:
“Its pretty pathetic, I wont lie. Im sick of this team at this point. Way too much losing. Its not even fun anymore, its angering.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to make the playoffs before the Edmonton Oilers. Quite ironic, considering the high praise for the Oilers rebuild and the futility aimed towards the Leafs rebuild.
Hardly any praise was given to the Leafs. The media chewed on Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer after having ate the Phil Kessel trade (they still vomit sometimes). It seemed the only critique the Oilers got was praise, as Hall, Yakupov, and Nugent Hopkins were on their way to becoming superstars. Don’t get me wrong, the Oilers have a great crop of young players, probably better than the Leafs. However, there was an obvious imbalance between the praise they received and the criticsm the Leafs got. It wasn’t fair.
One shouldn’t think the Leafs flukily made the playoffs and are nowhere near the establishing the core Edmonton has. The players you see in the playoffs this year are not veterans. In fact, they will be the players you will see represent the Leafs over the next several years. Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, and James Reimer are the Maple Leafs core players, and they are here to stay.
Defense is a priority for both teams, but it’s Toronto that has Dion Phaneuf. James Reimer looks like the real deal, while the Oilers cannot surely be set with Devan Dubnyk, and both teams could use a big pivot down the middle but are otherwise fine producing offense. The Oilers and Leafs have clearly established a core of players to build around, but the Leafs are ahead.
Can you say that the Leafs have completely won the battle? Probably not, since there is a lot more to a rebuild than making the playoffs once.
But the first goal in the process is to make the playoffs. A team can then focus on retooling for a championship. So who’s winning? Toronto.
Maybe, “Pittsburgh model? My ass” does work.
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