2011, 2012, Hockey, Sports, The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke

The Campaign to Fire Brian Burke: The 2011-2012 Maple Leafs Report Card

This is my report card for our 2011-2012 Maple Leafs’ season.

Maple Leafs’ Record:

  • 35-47, 80 points (12 points out of a playoff spot)
  • 4th in the Northeast
  • 13th in the Conference
  • 25th in the league (tied in points with their coach-mates, Anaheim)
  • 231 goals for (10th overall) but 264 goals against (29th overall), i.e. -33
  • The simple ranking system has them 25th overall as well.
  • To their credit, they had the 7th hardest schedule this year.

Jonas Gustavsson, 27, G:

  • 17W, 21L, .472 W% in 42 games
  • 2.92 GAA
  • .902 SV%
  • 1A

By accident, Gustavsson became the Leaf’s #1 goaltender this year, when last year it certainly didn’t look like it was going to happen.

It’s a chicken-or-egg question about whether it is the Leafs’ expensive but porous defense or Gustavsson’s average play that are to blame for their being the second worst defensive team in the league but Gustavsson certainly improved when his contract was on the line. Given almost double the minutes from last year, Gustavsson produced

  • the 31st most wins in the league
  • the 41st best GAA
  • tje 39th best save percentage.

None of which suggest he is a #1 goalie in the NHL – though clearly he could be a #2 or a perhaps a #1A.

No idea if this nets him a new contract; he is a restricted free agent this summer, and one of the 7 holes the Leafs may have to fill with under $7 million to spend. Personally, I don’t really know what their other options are. If they can sign him for the same price, they should. But what player ever wanted no pay raise after he put up a below average season?

Dion Phaneuf, 26, D:

  • 12G (tied for 6th among D), 32A (tied for 18th among D), for 44P (tied for 12th among D) in 82 games
  • -10 (tied for 255th overall)
  • 25:17 ATOI (10th overall)

Phaneuf was played as the Leafs most important skater, again. To his credit, he had an offensive season like we used to expect from the guy in his Calgary days. This is surely a good sign.

However, Phaneuf is still paid like one of the 30 best players in the league, and his all-around play leaves a lot to be desired. I was among the many who thought he would be a perennial Norris trophy candidate when he was drafted 9th overall nearly a decade ago, but he seems to have plateaued (and some years even regressed) since his earliest seasons.

I know I am pretty much one of two people in all of southern Ontario who think the Phaneuf trade was bad. (I maintain that, just because it was bad for both teams, doesn’t mean it was therefore good for the Leafs.) I strongly believe that the ridiculous salary of the D corps – that would be slightly over $22 million, or over 1 /3 of the cap, and this does not include Finger, who is fortunately a UFA this summer – has at least a smidgen to do with the cap problems the Leafs find themselves in this summer.

Phaneuf is the biggest part of that problem and unless he starts playing like his old self – i.e. the 40+ points and at least some kind of consistency in his own zone – it is really hard to see why he is supposedly so valuable to this team.

James Reimer, 23, G:

  • 14W, 18L, .412 W% in 34 games
  • 3.10 GAA
  • .900 SV%

Last year, I was told by more than a few people that Reimer was the goalie of the future. I said I wanted to see him play a full season. Now, obviously a concussion is not his fault, but the results of his 34 starts this year are not particularly hopeful. He is locked up for one more year, so unless Burke can convince someone that the end of last season was not a fluke, it looks like Reimer is the only sure thing in net for the Leafs next year.

Frankly, I’m okay with that. He’s 23. Maybe the book is out on him, maybe it isn’t. Those of us who think the Leafs will be as bad next year as they were this year say “Why not give him another chance? If he succeeds, then we have our goalie. If he doesn’t, the Leafs get another draft pick.”

Carl Gunnarsson, 25, D:

  • 4G, 15A for 19P in 76 games
  • -9
  • 21:42 ATOI

I like Gunnarsson, not just because he is a decent D – though hardly a #2, I’ll admit – but also because he is cheap. Gunnarsson is the 5th highest paid D on the team, yet in terms of minutes he’s the second most important. It’s good to have players like this.

Yes, saying Gunnarsson is important to the Leafs is damning with faint praise, but surely this kid deserves a chance on a better, future version of the Leafs – if such ever occurs during his NHL career.

Phil Kessel, 24, RW:

  • 37G (tied for 6th), 45A (tied for 21st) for 82P (tied for 6th) in 82 games
  • -10 (tied for 255th)
  • 20:03 ATOI

I must admit Kessel surprised the hell out of me with his ridiculous start and the fact that he managed to score almost a quarter more points than he had previously. (Something I did not think him capable of.)

Offensively, over the course of the whole season, Kessel compares very favourably with the league. Such numbers make him look like more than just a top 3 forward, they make him look like a franchise player.

The problem is twofold: his utter lack of defense  and his consistency.

Last year Burke tried to con us into believing Kessel is a two-way player. (Against our eyes no less.)

This year, Kessel’s +/- looked good for maybe a month but somehow he again managed to score a lot while being on the ice for a lot of goals. (Though it’s hardly as obvious as last year’s glaringly bad +/-.) He had a + when he was hot, and then when his scoring slowed down, there was nothing else. Check out March for example: 15 games: 5G, 5A, -12. Yuck. That was his worst month, but jesus.

The point is that we cannot believe for a second that his October of 10G, 8A, +6 in 11 games is going to be any kind of regular occurrence. The Leafs desperately needed him to keep that up and a true franchise player would (And, frankly, a franchise player would be a true centre anyway…) Maybe Kessel will prove me wrong next year, but I really, really doubt it.

This is a guy who is maybe a point-per-game player and would be a great asset on a team with other strong forwards, some of whom were committed to defense  But as the cornerstone of the Leafs, he will never be “the guy”.

I again say that a Leafs core built around Phaneuf and Kessel is not one that is likely to win a Cup.

Jake Gardiner, 21, D:

  • 7G, 23A for 30P in 75
  • -2
  • 21:35 ATOI

The Leafs (or perhaps just Wilson) confounded the hell out of me this season (as they often do) by starting Gardiner ahead of Franson because of a stretch Gardiner had in camp. What can I say? The thing to do certainly would have been to give Gardiner 20+ minutes a game on the Marlies to see how he coped and let the NHL (and playoff!) tested Franson play.

It appears that I was wrong as Gardiner has had himself a decent year despite the horrors around him. The offense isn’t exactly there, but that is hardly concerning from a 21 year old D.

I still maintain the safer decision would have been to give him the #1 job on the Marlies, but this actually worked out. I am really shocked. One can only hope for more from this kid. Good trade.

John-Michael Liles, 31, D:

  • 7G, 20A for 27P in 66 games
  • -14
  • 21:21 ATOI

Liles was acquired cheaply which is the only real reason to forgive his pretty terrible year.

The good news is that his cap hit drops after this season, the bad news is that he is tied up with us for 4 more years. (I feel like I’m at an incumbent’s rally.)

This was flat out the worst season of his career. Now, that may have something to do with the team he’s on, but at least part of that should fall on his shoulders. My only hope is that he somehow gets back up to snuff next year and they can move him.

Or they can just pull a Finger on him. That would work too.

Tyler Bozak, 25, C:

  • 18G, 29A for 47P in 73 games
  • -7
  • 18:51 ATOI

This year Bozak showed that he is indeed an NHL player. More than just that, he is potentially a 2nd line player on a not too great team.

I have always felt for Bozak. Nobody asks to be thrown into the fire like he was. It’s kind of insane to get signed straight out of college and then not long after made the NHL team with the biggest following on the planet’s first line centre through no fault of your own.

Bozak’s numbers suggest that he is a third line player in this league, which I kind of expected. He certainly did better than last year, though that’s not saying much.

I’m glad that he’s found his place. It’s just too bad the team is still trying to play him as the #1.

Mikhail Grabovski, 28, C:

  • 23G, 28A for 51P in 74 games
  • +/-0
  • 17:36 ATOI

I love Grabo. And yes, he is the best all-around forward on the Leafs. Absolutely. No doubt about it.

But he is 28. He is a second line centre. He will never be more than a second line centre. And frankly there are tons of teams in the league with second line centres who rank as the best all-around forward on their teams. It’s kind of the 2nd line centre’s job. The first line centre (often) gets away with caring less about defense  because they are so good offensively.

The problem is when you sign your second line centre to first line money, especially when he is at his peak age-wise, rather than a little younger. The first problem is that first line players and top 2 D will all expect to be paid more than him.

The second problem is that he is currently producing 50 points per season. Do we really expect that out of him at 33? Maybe he will. I hope so. But I really doubt it. Few players put out consistent numbers throughout their careers and fewer peak in their early 30s.

The Leafs are paying a guy $5.5 million per season to put up 40-50 points per year for the next five years. What are they supposed to pay the guys who are supposed to score 90?

Luke Schenn, 22, D:

  • 2G, 20A for 22P in 79 games
  • -6
  • 16:02 ATOI

This was another year when we were told Schenn regressed. I didn’t watch the Leafs enough this season to clearly see a regression, but what I see from the numbers is: he had a nearly identical season to last year but played far less minutes.

Now I know minutes are a reflection of coaches’ confidence, but there was also a log jam at D this year for the Leafs. It’s difficult for me to accept that Schenn is now doomed to being a 5-6 D at the age of 22. Have we all forgotten how long it takes most defensemen to develop? I haven’t given up hope that Schenn will one day be a significant part of a good NHL team.

It’s way too early in his career to throw in the towel. Now, when it comes to his salary that is a different story…

Joffrey Lupul, 28, W:

  • 25G, 42A for 67P in 66 games
  • +1
  • 18:37 ATOI

Nobody could have seen this coming. Well, the Leafs’ front office saw it coming, but who takes them seriously any more? Wilson told us last year that Lupul would score 30 and I laughed.

Wilson was more right than I was. Lupul would have scored 30 if he had only been healthy though whole season. But who are we kidding? It’s Lupul. He played more games this season than he has in a while. This was far and away the best season of his career.

So the voice in me that chants “rebuild!” says trade this guy before the draft for picks, as his value will never be higher – seriously over a point-per-game for a guy who is normally nowhere close – and never closer to his contract. The other way to play it is to move him at the trade deadline next year (a la Kaberle), provided of course the Leafs suck. (Will they not suck???)

Making him part of the future for his best season ever is not a good idea. I’m worried he will get an extension for this season, which would mean a raise over his $4.25 mil, and no doubt term as well. For a 28 year old who has peaked. Eek.

Tim Connolly, 30, C:

  • 13G, 23A for 36P in 70 games
  • -14
  • 17:00 ATOI

Connolly was an absolute disaster this year, but I don’t think we should blame him entirely. Beyond his power play time, he pretty much was the third line centre this season. (His minutes reflect the second unit time but that’s because of his presence on the power play.)

He was of course signed to be the first line centre to finally give Bozak a chance to perform in his proper spot. This lasted all of five minutes. Wilson or someone decided Lupul – Connolly – Kessel didn’t work in training camp – and it didn’t, if I remember correctly – and so we got our third highest paid player as a third liner. Of course the contract was ridiculous anyway – though Connolly at least played close to a season, imagine that – but they should have given their new centre a little bit more of a chance.

Remember when the Leafs put a past-his-prime Lindros between Chad Kilger and Tie Domi? Leaf fans complained about Lindros not living up to the hype. It takes a very special player to overcome bad circumstances. Connolly is evidently not that player.

Unfortunately, at his contract, he has no value to anyone really. Half a point-per-game and below average defense (despite whatever Burke tells us) for nearly $5 mil per season? Someone wants that?

Clarke MacArthur, 26, LW:

  • 20G, 23A for 43P in 73 games
  • +3
  • 15:51 ATOI

MacArthur has a pretty similar year this year to last year, except in the assist department (see below). Can’t complain.

Nikolai Kulemin, 25, W:

  • 7G, 21A for 28P in 70 games
  • +2
  • 15:13 ATOI

Kulemin just dropped off the face of the earth offensively this year. He was still one of the best defensive players on the team, but his offense just disappeared.

Was this because he didn’t play enough with his old set-up man, MacArthur? It’s hard to know. But we have to seriously wonder if last season was a fluke.

Do they keep Kulemin or let someone else sign him and get a pick? It’s a tough call. I say keep him but it’s a risk. He’ll want a raise – what player doesn’t? – and he shouldn’t get one. But I think we should keep one of the few solid defensive players on the team, especially given that he has scored 30 goals before.

But if he wants more than $3 mil per season, we have to seriously think about letting him walk.

David Steckel, 29, C:

  • 8G, 5A for 13P in 76 games
  • -14
  • 12:50 ATOI

I remember this guy was greeted as some kind of saviour by fans and media alike. He has excelled (better than I expected) at faceoffs. Which is why he is on the team. But he doesn’t do anything else. At least he’s relatively cheap.

Cody Franson, 24, D:

  • 5G, 16A for 21P in 57 games,
  • -1,
  • 16:11 ATOI

I still have no idea what they were thinking giving Gardiner his spot at the beginning of the season.

Yes, it is important for Gardiner to develop, but he could have in the Marlies (in a bigger role). Why trade for Franson at all if you are going to make him your 7th D? He was cheap, and he actually had a better year than last year when he was allowed to play (at least offensively speaking).

This all caused the Aulie mess (see below) I’m guessing, but now they have to think about whether they re-sign him or not and they didn’t give him the audition he deserved (i.e. top 4 minutes).

Fuck the Leafs can’t develop anybody.

Joey Crabb, 28, RW:

  • 11G, 15A for 26P in 67 games
  • +1
  • 13:27 ATOI

Only in Toronto would a player like Crabb get included in a story about Crosby. But that was a while ago. It’s not his fault the media is stupid.

Crabb and his kind are a dime a dozen. If they can get someone cheaper, they might as well. But I doubt it. He’s cheap. And effective at what he does. Keep him I guess (no big raises!).

Matthew Lombardi, 29, LW/C:

  • 8G, 10A for 18P in games
  • -19
  • 13:34 ATOI

Lombardi was a risk, and a bit of a disaster.

But they traded for him to get Franson. But then they didn’t really play Franson like they should have.

So what the hell do we do about Lombardi? He’s paid like a top 6 (at least a Leafs’ top 6) forward but he is clearly a bottom 6 at this point in his career, and not very effective at that. Who the hell will take this?

I think the Leafs have one more year. I wouldn’t care so much if they actually gave Franson a shot at playing.

Mike Komisarek, 30, D:

  • 1G, 4A for 5P in 45 games
  • -13
  • 16:39 ATOI

Worst contract ever.

Well, not really. But up there in recent Leafs lore. Finger him.

They have to. Because they didn’t trade him at the beginning of the season when everyone was on that “Komisarek really isn’t that bad after all” kick and his value was as high as it has been since the signing. Now he is untradeable…again.

Matt Frattin, 24, RW:

  • 8G, 7A for 15P in 56 games
  • -4, 13:10 ATOI
  • 12G, 4A for 16P in 21 games for the Marlies

Glad they chose Frattin to do this to, rather than Kadri. (Well, they sort of did it to him…)

Going to be a role player I think. Not as cheap as they come.

I personally would have let him play the season on the Marlies, but it is not up to me. Looks like he can play, just think he’s stuck in a role now, despite his goals in the AHL.

Ben Scrivens, 25, G:

  • 4W, 5L in 12 games
  • 3.12 GAA
  • .903 SV%
  • AHL: 22W, 15L, .579W%, 2.04 GAA, 0.926 SV%

Not enough of an NHL sample to judge, obviously. Those AHL numbers look nice but how can you judge? He will want a raise for those. So I guess the decision to re-sign rests on what kind of raise he wants.

Mike Brown, 26, RW:

  • 2G, 2A for 4P in 50 games
  • -8
  • 9:17 ATOI

Mike Brown is here to stay. He’s also clearly awesome. I have nothing really to say.

Phillipe Dupuis, 26, C/RW:

  • 0P in 30 games
  • -2
  • 10:30 ATOI
  • 14G, 16A for 30P in 40 games with the Marlies, +15.

Let him go.

Nazem Kadri, 21, LW/C:

  • 5G, 2A for 7P in 21 games
  • +2
  • 14:10 ATOI
  • 18G, 20A for 38P in 47 games with the Marlies, +2

I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again, the Leafs can’t develop anyone.

Why can’t they just let Kadri play one full season somewhere? Why must they juggle, juggle juggle? His role changes, his expectations change. (Especially when the media used to greet him as the saviour of lost seasons in the past.)

He is still 21, and there’s no reason to give up yet, but can’t they just let him play a top 3 role on the Marlies next year for the whole season and see what he does? If he can’t make the Leafs’ top 6, he shouldn’t be on the big club. And he should stay in the minors until he can. He is not a checker.

Keith Aulie, 22, D:

  • 2A for 2P in 22 games
  • -2
  • 16:07 ATOI

When the Phaneuf trade happened, those that would sell it for the Leafs front office told us that Aulie was perhaps the best part of the deal. And now he has been traded for a prospect who might – might – be a third liner. Don’t really know what to say, except “Who gives up on a 22 year old D prospect? Who?”

If Gardiner had been given the #1 job on the Marlies, and Franson had played a full season on the Leafs, and Komisarek had been Fingered, couldn’t Aulie have fit in? I think so. And then the Leafs would have some idea if he should be part of the future. Oh well.

Colby Armstrong, 29, RW:

  • 1G, 2A for 3P in 29 games
  • -8
  • 9:19 ATOI

Just a brutal contract. I seem to remember I said something about it once upon a time. One more year of this.

Jay Rosehill, 26, LW:

  • 0P in 31 games
  • -4
  • 5:55 ATOI


Darryl Boyce, 27, C:

  • 1G, 1A for 2P in 17 games
  • -3
  • 10:04 ATOI

Well he’s gone, so it doesn’t matter.

Carter Ashton, 20, RW:

  • 0P in 15 games
  • -10
  • 10:25 ATOI
  • 20G, 17A for 37P in 66 games with the Admirals and Marlies, +8

As we know, a 20 goal scorer in the AHL is not normally one in the NHL. Yes, he’s 20, but Ashton’s junior numbers do not compare favourably with most NHL top 6 forwards’ own feats in junior. It seems very unlikely to me that this kid is anything more than a bottom 6 forward. So why exactly did they trade Aulie for him? Just because his name sounds a lot like Anson Carter, doesn’t mean he’ll play like him.

Joe Colbrone, 22, C:

  • 1G, 4A for 5P in 10 games
  • +2
  • 13:41 ATOI
  • 16G, 22A for 38P in 63 games with the Marlies, +2

This supposed future piece of the Leafs should have been left in the AHL all year, especially after his goal drought.

I can’t say that I’m particularly excited about him any after his not particularly strong year, but maybe he wasn’t getting enough minutes. (No idea how many he was playing.) Only way to know is to give him the #1 centre job down there next year and leave him there. If he puts up a 30-50 or something, then you know you got something, at least. Of course is he puts up a 20-20, then you’re not so sure.

Jussi Rynnas, 24, G:

  • 1L in 2 games
  • 4.24 GAA
  • 0.825 SV%
  • 11W, 9L, .524W%, 2.43 GAA, 0.914 SV% with the Marlies

It’s really impossible to know what this guy will do in the NHL. So it’s a tough call as to whether to re-sign him. He did his job as the Marlies backup, so I guess they might.

Unless of course they sign Parker Milner, which I suspect they might try to.

Ryan Hamilton, 26, LW:

  • 1A for 1P in 2 games
  • -1
  • 13:08 ATOI
  • 25G, 26A for 51P in 72 games with the Marlies, +7

If Ryan Hamilton were not a career minor leaguer, I might be excited about his AHL numbers. But at 26, is this guy really a prospect any more?

Colton Orr, 29, RW:

  • 1G for 1P in 5 games
  • +1
  • 4:29 ATOI
  • 1G for 1P in 25 games with the Marlies, -3

Burke’s bemoaning of the death of “the Colton Orr” is one of the innumerable signs he cannot make smart decisions in our post-lockout world. Colton Orr isn’t much of a hockey player. Everyone knows that but Burke. And perhaps Colton Orr.

Summary of the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs

Burke took over on November 29, 2008, nearly 3 and 1/2 years ago. In that time the Leafs have gone:

  • 26-26-7
  • 30-38-14
  • 37-34-11
  • 35-37-10

For a total of 128 wins, 135 losses and 42 pseudo losses. That’s a winning percentage of .4197. Many teams might have something to show for this.

In the three and bit seasons before Burke took over, they went:

  • 41-33-8
  • 40-31-11
  • 36-35-11
  • 8-9-6

125-108-36. That’s a winning percentage of .4647. These teams didn’t make the playoffs either obviously. They were just mediocre, not bad as Burke’s have been.

Now, during a rebuild we would expect the team to be bad. But unfortunately the Leafs don’t have anything to show for it. Usually, a rebuilding team earns things for its badness. (‘Earn’ is not the right word, see all the anti-tanking basketball blog posts of late.) But the Leafs haven’t ‘earned anything’ because of moves their general manager has made: including just enough free agent signings to keep them barely competitive. (Though not this year, fortunately.)

And not to beat the dead horse any more, but the Kessel trade symbolizes everything that has gone wrong: which would you rather have: a 24 year old winger who scores a lot (top 10 in the league) but who does nothing else OR a 20 year old centre who leads his team in scoring and plays a two way game (i.e. Tyler Seguin) + two prospects? The answer is obvious to nearly everyone but Burke. I have said it before and I will say it again, you can’t rebuild by trading away your assets / prospects.

As an aside, rumours are spreading the Leafs are going for the #1 pick this year. That’s funny because

  1. Burke has made promises (cough Tavares cough) in the past and utterly failed to deliver (in part because he said them publicly) and
  2. the owners of the #1 pick happen to include Kevin Lowe, who Burke crucified for being stupid (Lowe stupidly signed Penner to a terrible contract as an RFA which was totally within his rights but still very dumb) and they don’t really have a relationship to speak of.

Here is our Leafs team of next season (going into the draft and free agency):

Cap HitMinutes Played (2011-12)
LombardiConnollyArmstrongMacArthurGraboKulemin (RFA)
MacArthurBozakKulemin (RFA)LombardiConnollyBrown
TuckerSteckelFrattin (RFA)KadriSteckelFrattin (RFA)
FingerGunnarssonSchennFranson (RFA)
Rynnas (RFA)Scrivens
ScrivensRynnas (RFA)

On the left is the Leafs’ depth chart based on next year’s cap hit (with a joke thrown in for good measure). On the right is the Leafs’ depth chart based on minutes played last year, both excluding the team’s UFAs. If we did it by points, it would look different yet again.Though I don’t know that there is ever a direct correlation between a team’s salaries and the hockey value of the players, something looks a little amiss in this chart. Moreover, hockey value is a relative thing, as the team on the right finished in 25th place this season. Not saying the team on the left would do better; no I am not.

The point is that even if you maintain that Burke has made good decisions, the results are not good. (There are people who do maintain this… I just got shelled with a bunch of defenses of him on facebook.) TIf the Leafs get a future NHL player with their #5 pick this year, it is because the team Burke assembled to not-suck sucked, not because of any kind of plan on his part. If the Leafs convert the #5 pick into a better pick, it is for similar reasons. (Though this time with help from Burke.)

By any standard I can think of, his tenure has been a failure, even if you think you can defend his trades and signings. (I have tried to be as fair as possible in my assessments; I hope you noticed that I have praised some trades and supported the odd signing, even while campaigning for his removal.)

I know some people think he should be given more time. But why? If he was genuinely rebuilding the team, I would be all for it. But he isn’t. The Leafs sucked this year not by design (unlike, say, the Oilers) but because their GM hasn’t assembled enough talent.

And that’s the big stickler. Burke tells us the Leafs need to be tougher. But they aren’t talented enough. Good talent that works hard wins championships. (And contends for them regularly, see the Detroit Red Wings.) Talent that doesn’t work hard rarely gets there. Workers that aren’t talented enough occasionally get there too. But part of the problem of assembling a mediocre team based on the fact that a mediocre Oilers team was close to winning the cup and a mediocre Flyers team subsequently did the same is that the Oilers were a total fluke. Look where they are now. That ’06 team wasn’t going to be competitive for any extended stretch. They just got on a hot streak. No Leafs fan wants to support a gameplan that requires the Leafs to fluke into the playoffs each year in the hope that they get hot and upset all the higher seeds. (As for the Flyers, they underperformed for their talent that year, and so to compare them with other mediocre teams seems unfair.)

Far as I see it, the true rebuild is the only way to go. It is risky though. It worked for the Penguins and the Blackhawks. We will see how it worked for the Blues. It only sort of worked for the Capitals. It hasn’t yet worked for the Islanders and the Avalanche, or the Kings for that matter. But they all at least tried a system that has some chance of working. The chances for this Leafs project seem abysmal to me. If the Leafs fluke into the best  player in this draft, it has nothing to do with Burke’s plan.

The Oilers are conducting their own serious rebuild right now. Since they are my second favourite team, and since they have missed the playoffs for the second longest amount of time, I think a comparison is in order. (Please do not take this as an endorsement of some of the truly terrible Oilers decisions of the past, like the Penner or Horcoff signings.)

So lets look at the first round picks in their organizations. The key is d: drafted, t: traded for, s: signed, 30+: 30 years of age or over. Lets also keep in mind that the Oilers have, as I write this, approximately three times as much cap space this summer as the Leafs. The Leafs have an average age of about half a year less than the Oilers.

Maple Leafs’ Draft Pedigree:

  • #1 picks: 0
  • Top 5 picks: 3
    • 1drafted
    • 1 acquired by trade
    • 1 signed, who is 30+
  • Top 10 picks: 4
    • 1 drafted
    • 2 acquired by trade
    • 1 signed, who is 30+
  • Top 30 picks: 8
    • 2 drafted
    • 4 acquired by trade
    • 2 signed

Oilers Draft Pedigree:

  • #1 picks: 2
    • Both drafted
  • Top 5 picks: 2
    • 1 acquired by trade,
    • 1 signed
  • Top 10 picks: 3
    • 2 drafted
    • 1 acquired by trade
  • Top 30 picks: 6
    • 4 drafted
    • 1 acquired by trade
    • 1 signed

Additionally, the Oilers have a few more 2nd rounders than the Leafs.

The first obvious thing is that the Leafs have 4 first round picks in their system that they drafted themselves. They have 4 first round picks that they signed. The Oilers have 8 first round picks they drafted themselves, and two that they signed.

This means two things: most of the Oilers first round picks are younger and most of the Oilers first round picks are cheaper. Though the Oilers are ostensibly an older team, they are older because Khabibulin is 39 and Horcoff is 33. Whereas the Leafs have virtually nobody that old. So really, the Oilers are actually younger, on the whole.

Now, I know that a first round pick is not a guarantee. I am as aware of that as anyone. But the Oilers have lots of them (some of whom have not panned out). The Leafs have a lot fewer. If you think of a first round pick as having multiple lottery tickets per pick, you have more tickets the higher you draft, with a few anomalous exceptions. (Cullen has written about this in his blog.) Though the Oilers could easily fuck up their talent load – and certainly fans their have no faith in management at the moment – they have much better odds – which just got better with their winning this year’s draft lottery – than the Leafs, who have far fewer tickets, so to speak.

The reason to rebuild is to get many, affordable chances to find players to build your team around. By not going the Oilers route, the Leafs have way fewer of those than they should have. I can’t say who will win the cup first, or play in the final next, but my guess would be firmly with the Oilers, if only because they have oodles more talent than the Leafs. Now, whether that talent works hard enough, and well enough together, is another thing. But they have potential. Do the Leafs?

The Leafs now have to hope they draft well this summer. They have to make some kind of trade to either give them room to sign a free agent (or three) or make a trade to improve the team. If they do none of these things, they will be bad next year. If they do some of them, they will likely be mediocre. What exactly was the point of this “rebuild on the fly”? To create a perpetually mediocre team? (As I have been arguing for three years.)

I cannot wrap my head around how anyone can, at this point, defend Burke. The Leafs are bad and they can only get better through two things: the draft (which will take time) and trades – the latter of which means giving up some of the few valuable assets they have. They can’t exactly sign many people without Fingering someone. (cough Komisarek cough.) Yuck.

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