One move off the ice that I think is a good one was to bring on board his good friend and old colleague Dave Nonis as senior vice president of hockey operations. Nonis is a bright hockey mind and has good NHL experience and works well with Burke. In today’s NHL you can’t have too many good hockey people in your organization, and Toronto now has a management team that should give them a chance to succeed.
Lacking picks and impact players
One of the first orders of business for Burke and his management team is to assess the assets within the organization. Now, I hate calling players “assets”, but when you are looking at the depth chart of a team, that is exactly what they are. There are draft picks and there are players, and you need a good balance of both if you are going to be a successful team. The Leafs that Burke has inherited are lacking on both fronts.
Toronto does not have an abundance of young talent in their organization, most of the prospects for the future are here, and ones like 24-year-old Jeremy Williams (220th overall in 2003), who had a goal and an assist against the Isles, may get more of a chance to play, but are not the type of impact players to build around.
If Burke and company are going to truly turn the fortunes of the Leafs around, they are going to have to get worse, before they get better. For Leaf fans, that hardly seems possible, but it’s true.
Too many years the Leafs have not been good enough to make the playoffs or make a significant playoff run, but have made deals and given away draft picks trying to stay competitive. Look at this year. Despite missing the playoffs last year, the Leafs don’t have a second or third pick in the 2009 draft. Burke’s first order of business will be to try to accumulate draft picks for this year and beyond. The only way to do that is to unload some veteran players.
If you look at the Washington Capitals, who were the Leafs’ opponent on Hockey Night in Canada last Saturday, they are a team rich with prospects and picks and look to be a team that will be very good for a long time.
If you look at their recent history, they are not much different than the Leafs. From 2002-2008, Washington missed the playoffs four times, while Toronto missed three times.
Capitals set great example
The biggest difference lies in the draft. The Capitals knew they weren’t good enough to compete, so they sold off their older talent and traded for draft picks, and ensured a few of their picks would be a high ones. Over that seven-year span, George McPhee had 14 first-round picks, and another nine in the second round. By comparison, Toronto has had only four picks in the first round and only four in the second during the last seven drafts.
In 2002, the Caps had three first-round picks and 13 overall, grabbing Alexander Semin 13th and Boyd Gordon 17th. In 2003, Erik Fehr, who was chosen at 18th, is on the squad’s roster.
In 2004, again the Caps had three more first-round picks and six picks in the first 66 spots of the draft. Out of that group came superstar Alexander Ovechkin (first ), solid defenceman Jeff Shultz (27th) and star-in-the-making Mike Green (29th) showing that good drafting late in the first round is critical, just look at the Detroit Red Wings as proof.
In 2006, Nicklas Backstrom was fourth and in 2007 Karl Alzner fifth. That’s eight players on the Capitals’ 23-man roster who were all first-round draft picks within the last seven years. The only Leaf first-round pick since 2002 playing for them is last year’s pick Luke Schenn. Big difference.
If Brian Burke can turn things around long term for the Leafs it is going to take some patience from an already fed up and impatient fan base, but his plan going forward seems to be clear: sell off old assets to accumulate draft picks, draft wisely and build from within.
For Leaf fans they can only hope Burke is finally the right man for the job.
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