2011, Hockey, Sports, The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke

The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke: The Leafs should tank next year (and perhaps the year after)

With all this talk about the Leafs making the playoffs, and with Reimer looking like the second coming of Chris Mason (prior to the injury), I think it’s time to restate why the Leafs really need to go through a traditional rebuild. It was only last week that Burke looked like he was finally realizing this but now, with a couple more wins, there are calls to trade for players and go on a run. Yes, Chris Mason was spectacular for that brief stretch but look at the Blues now. Just because a new goalie plays well when he first enters the league, doesn’t mean he will later. On the other hand, there is a little more success with high draft picks. And the Leafs need more in order to ever achieve the success that all of us crave. To that end:

2010:

Champion: Chicago

  • Toews: drafted
  • Kane: drafted
  • Sharp: traded
  • By-Fuglien: drafted
  • Bolland: drafted
  • Hossa: free agent
  • Keith: drafted
  • Seabrook: drafted
  • Hjalmarsson: drafted
  • Campbell: free agent
  • Niemi: free agent from Europe

Runner Up: Philly

  • Briere: free agent
  • Richards: drafted
  • Giroux: drafted
  • Leino: traded
  • Hartnell: traded
  • Gagne: drafted
  • Pronger: traded
  • Timonen: traded
  • Carle: traded
  • Coburn: traded
  • Leighton: waiver trash
  • Boucher: free agent but originally drafted by Philly

2009:

Champions: Pittsburgh

  • Malkin: drafted
  • Crosby: drafted
  • Guerin: traded
  • Fedotenko: free agent
  • Kunitz: traded
  • Talbot: traded
  • Gonchar: free agent
  • Scuderi: drafted
  • Orpik: drafted
  • Letang: drafted
  • Fleury: drafted

Runner Up: Detroit

  • Zetterberg: drafted
  • Franzen: drafted
  • Datsyuk: drafted
  • Filppula: drafted
  • Hossa: free agent
  • Cleary: free agent
  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Stuart: traded
  • Kronwall: drafted
  • Rafalski: free agent
  • Osgood: free agent but originally drafted by Detroit

2008:

Champions: Detroit

  • Zetterberg: drafted
  • Datsyuk: drafted
  • Franzen: drafted
  • Holmstrom: drafted
  • Cleary: free agent
  • Filpulla: drafted
  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Rafalski: free agent
  • Kronwall: drafted
  • Stuart: traded
  • Osgood: free agent but originally drafted by Detroit

Runner Up: Pittsburgh

  • Crosby: drafted
  • Hossa: traded
  • Malkin: drafted
  • Malone: drafted
  • Staal: drafted
  • Dupuis: traded
  • Gonchar: free agent
  • Orpik: drafted
  • Whitney: drafted
  • Scuderi: drafted
  • Fleury: drafted

2007:

Champions: Anaheim

  • S. Niedermayer: free agent but his brother was on the team
  • Getzlaf: drafted
  • Pahlsson: traded
  • Selanne: free agent but originally acquired by trade
  • McDonald: amateur free agent
  • Perry: drafted
  • Moen: traded
  • Beauchemin: traded
  • Pronger: traded
  • O’Donnell: traded
  • Giguere: traded

Runners Up: Ottawa

  • Alfredsson: drafted
  • Heatley: traded
  • Spezza: drafted
  • Fisher: drafted
  • Vermette: drafted
  • Kelly: drafted
  • Redden: traded
  • Volchenkov: drafted
  • Phillips: drafted
  • Meszaros: drafted
  • Emery: drafted

2006:

Champions: Carolina

  • C. Ward: drafted
  • Staal: drafted
  • Brind’Amour: traded
  • Williams: traded
  • Stillman: free agent
  • Cullen: traded
  • Recchi: traded
  • Hedican: traded
  • A. Ward: traded
  • Commodore: traded
  • Kaberle: free agent

Runners Up: Edmonton

  • Pronger: traded
  • Horcoff: drafted
  • Smyth: drafted
  • Pisani: drafted
  • Peca: traded
  • Hemsky: drafted
  • Samsonov: traded
  • Spacek: traded
  • Smith: traded
  • Staios: free agent
  • Roloson: traded

2004:

Champions: Tampa Bay

  • Richards: drafted
  • St. Louis: free agent
  • Modin: traded
  • Lecavalier: drafted
  • Fedotenko: traded
  • Andreychuk: free agent
  • Kubina: drafted
  • Sydor: traded
  • Boyle: traded
  • Sarich: traded
  • Khabibulin: traded

Runners Up: Calgary

  • Iginla: traded
  • Conroy: traded
  • Nilson: traded
  • Gelinas: free agent
  • Donovan: traded
  • Nieminen: traded
  • Regehr: traded
  • Leopold: traded
  • Ferrence: traded
  • Warrener: traded
  • Kiprusoff: traded

2003:

Champions: New Jersey

  • Brodeur: drafted
  • Langenbrunner: traded
  • Madden: amateur free agent
  • Elias: drafted
  • Friesen: traded
  • Pandolfo: drafted
  • Gomez: drafted
  • Niedermayer: drafted
  • Rafalski: amateur free agent
  • S. Stevens: compensation for restricted free agent signing
  • White: drafted

Runners Up: Anaheim

  • Giguere: traded
  • Kariya: drafted
  • Oates: free agent
  • Sykora: traded
  • Rucchin: amateur free agent
  • R. Niedermayer: traded
  • Leclerc: drafted
  • Salei: drafted
  • Carney: traded
  • Havelid: drafted
  • Ozolinsh: traded

2002:

Champions: Detroit

  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Yzerman: drafted
  • Fedorov: drafted
  • Shanahan: traded
  • Hull: free agent
  • Larionov: traded
  • Chelios: traded
  • Olausson: free agent
  • Fischer: drafted
  • Hasek: traded

Runners Up: Carolina

  • Francis: free agent but originally drafted by Hartford
  • Battaglia: traded
  • Brind’Amour: traded
  • O’Neill: drafted
  • Kapanen: drafted
  • Cole: drafted
  • Hill: traded
  • Hedican: traded
  • A. Ward: traded
  • Wesley: traded
  • Irbe: free agent
  • Weekes: traded

2001:

Champions: Colorado

  • Roy: traded
  • Sakic: drafted
  • Hejduk: drafted
  • Tanguay: drafted
  • Forsberg: traded
  • Drury: drafted
  • Nieminen: drafted
  • Blake: traded
  • R. Bourque: traded
  • Foote: drafted
  • Klemm: amateur free agent

Runners Up: New Jersey

  • Elias: drafted
  • Sykora: drafted
  • Holik: traded
  • Mogilny: traded
  • Gomez: drafted
  • Arnott: traded
  • S. Niedermayer: drafted
  • S. Stevens: compensation for restricted free agent signing
  • Rafalski: amateur free agent
  • White: drafted
  • Brodeur: drafted

2000:

Champions: New Jersey

  • S. Stevens: compensation for restricted free agent signing
  • Elias: drafted
  • Arnott: traded
  • Sykora: drafted
  • C. Lemieux: traded
  • Gomez: drafted
  • Holik: traded
  • S. Niedermayer: drafted
  • Rafalski: amateur free agent
  • Malakhov: traded
  • Brodeur: drafted

Runners Up: Dallas

  • Modano: drafted
  • Hull: free agent
  • Nieuwendyk: traded
  • Langenbrunner: drafted
  • Carbonneau: traded
  • Lehtinen: drafted
  • D. Hatcher: drafted
  • Zubov: traded
  • Matvichuk: drafted
  • Sydor: traded
  • Belfour: free agent

1999:

Champions: Dallas*

  • Joe Nieuwendyk: traded
  • Modano: drafted
  • Langenbrunner: drafted
  • Hull: free agent
  • Lehtinen: drafted
  • Keane: traded
  • Zubov: traded
  • D. Hatcher: drafted
  • Matvichuk: drafted
  • Sydor: traded
  • Belfour: free agent

Runners Up: Buffalo*

  • Hasek: traded
  • Peca: traded
  • C. Brown: drafted
  • D. Ward: free agent
  • Juneau: traded
  • Barnes: traded
  • Varada: traded
  • Zhitnick: traded
  • Woolley: traded
  • Smehlik: drafted
  • McKee: drafted

1998:

Champions: Detroit

  • Yzerman: drafted
  • Fedorov: drafted
  • Holmstrom: drafted
  • Lapointe: drafted
  • Vy. Kozlov: drafted
  • Larionov: trade
  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Murphy: traded
  • Ericksson: drafted
  • Maccoun: traded
  • Osgood: drafted

Runners Up: Washington

  • Oates: traded
  • Juneau: traded
  • Nikolishin: traded
  • Bellows: free agent
  • Bondra: drafted
  • Zednick: drafted
  • Gonchar: drafted
  • Johansson: traded
  • Housley: free agent
  • Reekie: traded
  • Kolzig: drafted

1997:

Champions: Detroit

  • Vernon: traded
  • Fedorovo: drafted
  • Shanahan: traded
  • Yzerman: drafted
  • Vy. Kozlov: drafted
  • Lapointe: drafted
  • Larionov: traded
  • Murphy: traded
  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Fetisov: traded
  • Konstantinov: drafted

Runners Up: Philly

  • Lindros: traded
  • Brind’Amour: traded
  • LeClair: traded
  • Renberg: drafted
  • Zubrus: drafted
  • Podein: free agent
  • Ninimaa: drafted
  • Desjardins: traded
  • Coffey: traded
  • Therien: drafted
  • Snow: traded
  • Hextall: drafted

1996:

Champions: Colorado

  • Sakic: drafted
  • Forsberg: traded
  • Kamensky: drafted
  • Deadmarsh: drafted
  • Ricci: traded
  • Young: traded
  • Ozolinsh: traded
  • Krupp: traded
  • Gusarov: drafted
  • Lefebvre: traded
  • Roy: traded

Runners Up: Florida

  • Vanbiesbrouck: claimed in expansion draft
  • Lowry: claimed in expansion draft
  • Sheppard: traded
  • Barnes: traded
  • Lindsay: claimed in expansion draft
  • Mellanby: claimed in expansion draft
  • Fitzgerald: claimed in expansion draft
  • Jovonovski: drafted
  • Laus: claimed in expansion draft
  • Woolley: free agent
  • Svehla: traded

1995:

Champions: New Jersey

  • C. Lemieux: traded
  • Richer: traded
  • N. Broten: traded
  • J. Maclean: drafted
  • McKay: compensation for restricted free agent signing
  • Guerin: drafted
  • S. Niedermayer: drafted
  • Chambers: traded
  • Albelin: traded
  • S. Stevens: compensation for restricted free agent signing
  • Brodeur: drafted

Runners Up: Detroit

  • Fedorov: drafted
  • Vy. Kozlov: drafted
  • Do. Brown: waiver trash
  • Yzerman: drafted
  • Ciccarelli: traded
  • K. Primeau: drafted
  • Coffey: traded
  • Lidstrom: drafted
  • Fetisov: traded
  • Konstantinov: drafted
  • Vernon: traded

1994:

Champions: NYR

  • Leetch: drafted
  • Messier: traded
  • Kovalev: drafted
  • Graves: free agent
  • Larmer: traded
  • Noonan: traded
  • Matteau: traded
  • Zubov: drafted
  • Beukeboom: traded
  • Karpovtsev: traded
  • Richter: drafted

Runners Up: Vancouver

  • Bure: drafted
  • Linden: drafted
  • G. Courtnall: traded
  • Ronning: traded
  • G. Adams: traded
  • Craven: traded
  • J. Brown: traded
  • Lumme: traded
  • D. Babych: traded
  • Hedican: traded
  • K. McLean: traded

1993:

Champions: Montreal

  • Roy: drafted
  • Damphousse: traded
  • Muller: traded
  • Bellows: traded
  • Keane: amateur free agent
  • P. Dipietro: drafted
  • G. Dionne: drafted
  • Desjardins: drafted
  • Haller: traded
  • Odelein: drafted
  • Daigneault: traded

Runners Up: Los Angeles

  • Gretzky: traded
  • Sandstrom: traded
  • Robitaille: drafted
  • Kurri: traded
  • Granato: traded
  • Rychel: free agent
  • Zhitnik: drafted
  • Sydor: drafted
  • Blake: drafted
  • Huddy: traded
  • Hrudey: traded

1992:

Champions: Pittsburgh

  • M. Lemieux: drafted
  • K. Stevens: traded
  • Francis: traded
  • Jagr: drafted
  • Tocchet: traded
  • McEachern: drafted
  • Murphy: traded
  • Stanton: drafted
  • Paek: drafted
  • K. Samuelsson: traded
  • Barrasso: traded

Runners Up: Chicago

  • Roenick: drafted
  • Larmer: drafted
  • Noonan: drafted
  • D. Graham: traded
  • Matteau: traded
  • Hudson: drafted
  • Chelios: traded
  • St. Smith: traded
  • Kravchuk: drafted
  • K. Brown: drafted
  • Belfour: amateur free agent

1991:

Champions: Pittsburgh

  • M. Lemieux: drafted
  • Recchi: drafted
  • K. Stevens: traded
  • J. Mullen: traded
  • Francis: traded
  • P. Bourque: amateur free agent
  • Jagr: drafted
  • Murphy: traded
  • Coffey: traded
  • U. Samuelsson: traded
  • Go. Roberts: traded
  • Barrasso: traded

Runners Up: Minnesota

  • Bellows: drafted
  • D. Gagner: traded
  • B. Propp: free agent
  • N. Broten: drafted
  • Modano: drafted
  • B. Smith: traded but originally drafted by Minnesota
  • Tinordi: traded
  • Glynn: traded
  • Dahlquist; traded
  • Wilkinson: drafted
  • Casey: amateur free agent

1990:

Champions: Edmonton

  • Ranford: traded
  • Simpson: traded
  • Messier: drafted
  • Kurri: drafted
  • Tikkanen: drafted
  • G. Anderson: drafted
  • Lamb: waiver trash
  • St. Smith: drafted
  • Ruotsalainen: traded
  • Gregg: amateur free agent

Runners Up: Boston

  • Neely: traded
  • Janney: drafted
  • Burridge: drafted
  • Poulin: traded
  • Propp: traded
  • Carpenter: traded
  • R. Bourque: drafted
  • Wesley: drafted
  • Galley: free agent
  • Sweeney: drafted
  • Moog: traded

The above is a list of the past 40 teams to play for the Stanley Cup, including their top 6 forwards, their top 4 defensemen, and their starting goaltenders.

I think the thing that most sticks out at first is the sheer number of players that were acquired by trade. It is the clear majority. This despite the fact that years 1995-2004 were the years of unlimited free agency. One would expect that there would be more than a few free agents playing key roles in cup victories but that is not the case. And it only emphasizes how unsuccessful the “free agent frenzy” actually is. Free agents played roles in all these teams, but only a few times did they actually play a major role.

But perhaps more startling, given the huge role free agency plays even in the salary cap world, is the huge number of star players that were drafted. Of the 40 Conn Smythe and opposing team’s best players, 22 were drafted by that franchise (55%), 13 were traded to the team (33%), 3 were free agents (8%) and two were acquired in some other fashion. And there’s a reason for this. Many of these teams, at some point, sucked donkey balls in order to get those players.

The Bruins were never really terrible during the ’80s, instead making very intelligent trades with bad teams. The Habs are another exception, having only a couple of bad years in the ’80s. The Rangers weren’t really terrible but weren’t really good either, so they are sort of an exception. The Panthers are a special case, who defy explanation. The Caps are another exception. The Sabres were merely mediocre and so are another exception.

But,

  • 1990 Edmonton is an obvious exception but later they were bad.
  • The Stars were terrible multiple times.
  • The Penguins were terrible for quite a while. Later, they were terrible some more (and also lucky), which is the main factor in why they are tied for the second most championships in the last 20 seasons.
  • We all remember the recent terrible Hawks, but they also had some lean years in the ’80s
  • The Kings were often brutal in the ’80s
  • The Canucks were bad for quite a while
  • The Wings sucked for more than quite a little while
  • The Devils were terrible forever before they were good
  • The pre-Av Nordiques were legendarily terrible
  • The Flyers may not have been terrible, they were actually a good franchise. But they made one of the worst trades in history with one of the most inept franchise (the aforementioned Nordiques) and acquired a player they only could have gotten by being terrible. In recent years they did have a bad year.
  • The Whalers/Canes were terrible for a long time. And the Canes have some how managed to alternate terrible and good years with frequency.
  • The Mighty Ducks were terrible, even if the Ducks weren’t
  • The Flames and Lightning bother were terrible
  • The Senators are famous for tanking one year (only to draft Daigle)

That record doesn’t seem to imply the only road to success is through tanking, but certainly more of the great teams of recent years came out of years of privation than didn’t. It’s not as simple as that of course.

As I said, largest number of important players on these teams were traded to these teams. Trades can only happen with assets. A team gains assets through the draft and through (pro and amateur) free agent signings. This list suggests, I think, that it is better to acquire these assets through the draft as there is a better chance of not having to trade those players for better ones. But even if that is only partially true, a closer investigation into the key trades that made these champions and near-champions would show that most of these key trades involved players drafted by the eventual champion/runner-up.

I think the message is clear. The only reasonably tried and true way to build a Cup contender is through some bad years. But in those bad years you need your draft pick, which is why the Leafs need to start over again next year (and the year after). As Kessel isn’t a franchise player, neither is Kadri, and the Leafs aren’t going to get one through free agency (and, even if they did, this list suggests that it is extremely unlikely they would then ride that player to the Cup).

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