Over the last couple of weeks it seems that my posts have become a little too much pro-Brian Burke for some of my readers. I understand that the current GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a polarizing figure, and I am in no way balls deep in love with his tenure so far with the blue and white. Where I support the fiery Irishman is in the fact that I think he has assembled a strong and competitive core of young players that – with all the depth in the AHL, CHL and college hockey – are on the verge of being a legitimate contender for an extended time in the league. Considering the long and trying times it’s been as of late to be a fan of my beloved Leafs, I am still willing to be patient because I see a future with Burke’s plan. The end goal is apparent at least to myself.
Where I grow frustrated is with fans that think the turnaround should have been instant. One thing that stands out is that Burke inherited a complete and utter mess in Toronto. The cupboard was completely stripped down and bare, and replenishing those areas is something that takes time. Another interesting item that confuses me is how fans support Mats Sundin’s decision to not waive his no trade clause while attacking Burke for his inability to achieve success quickly. Those two elements are directly tied hand in hand. Had Sundin allowed Cliff Fletcher to auction him off to the highest bidder then the Leafs rebuild would have been so much farther along. Instead Sundin’s departure from the blue and white yielded no assets to a franchise in transition. Nine months after the Sundin debacle Burke took over the Leafs and has been agonizingly restocking this organization piece by piece ever since.
This past season there were two examples of what end results are capable to franchises that are patient. Both the St.Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings enjoyed renaissance seasons. The Blues finished with 109 points in winning the highly competitive Central division. The Blues then went on to the second round of the playoffs where they were ousted by the Kings. Los Angeles rode the strong goaltending of Jonathan Quick to a Stanley Cup championship. Where these two teams offer some hope to fans of the blue and white is in the fact that they also endured tough seasons before they re-emerged as powers in the NHL. Since the lockout the Blues finished 30th, 22nd, 27th, 15th, 15th and 20th. During those years it seemed that the ship would never right itself, but the Blues held tough and quietly acquired assets such as David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, Alex Pieterangelo and Patrick Berglund with their own draft picks. Blues management also added to that core by being able to offload young assets to other organizations for Jaro Halak, Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Steen. The first four season after the lockout were tough for fans of the Kings as they watched their team finish 20th, 28th, 29th and 26th before they turned the corner. In those seasons the Kings unearthed with their draft picks two all world players in Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. With those two studs in place – alongside captain Dustin Brown – the Kings then shipped out young pieces for Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. Along with some astute free agent signings – Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell – the Kings went on to win it all this season and they appear to be a force for the foreseeable future.
You Take a Block From the Bottom and Put it on Top
Where it now becomes imperative for the Leafs is in that the time has arrived for the young assets to become a part of the everyday lineup. With Korbinian Holzer set to join the young Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner on the blueline it appears that Burke has acknowledged that graduation has arrived for many of his prized pieces. The buyout of Colby Armstrong alongside the Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill deletions signals that there are spots available for crucial members of the Calder Cup finalist Toronto Marlies. If Burke is seriously committed to the rebuild then there is no reason that holdover buds such as Tyler Bozak, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Mike Brown should receive ice time over the likes of Nazem Kadri, Jerry D’Amigo, Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton and Matt Frattin. There is no half way this season. Assuming there are no more additions to the forward ranks this summer the opening day lineup should be as follows:
Joffrey Lupul – Joe Colborne/Nazem Kadri – Phil Kessel
JVR – Grabovski – MacArthur
Kulemin – McClement – Frattin
Ashton – Steckel – D’Amigo
The rebuild will only go as far as allowing your young caterpillars to develop into butterflies. There is nothing left to prove in the AHL for many of those players, and with Tyler Biggs, Brad Ross, Greg McKegg, Jamie Devane and so forth moving onto the Marlies next season the natural progression is for the likes of Frattin, Colborne, Ashton, Kadri and D’Amigo to take the next step as well. In the end hockey becomes very simple, it’s all about goaltending. Both the Blues and the Kings only took that final step in their rebuilds when they received above average goaltending. If and when Burke addresses that area then the assets he has deftly acquired will resemble the winning pieces necessary to compete year after year. Should we endure another season of directionless veterans occupying valuable roster spots then I assure you my talons will be sharpened as well in attacking Burke.