Despite the Roberto Luongo to Toronto trade rumours, the Leafs have begun the season with a pair of young netminders manning their crease. The duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens came into this year with a combined 83 starts between them. In a hockey-crazed town that hasn’t seen playoff action since 2004, all of these factors haven’t stopped management from holding firm in their beliefs in their talents while not giving up good assets for an established goalie.
You would think an experienced management team, such as the one overseeing the Leafs, would like to solidify their goaltending as soon as possible when you consider the young team they are icing, yet they have not to this point. This isn’t the first time an NHL team has gone down the path of running with two inexperienced goalies, and it surely won’t be the last. To give you an idea of how young goalie tandems have turned out, I looked up every team’s starting tandem since 1997, and recorded every goalie duo I found where both starters had less than three years of experience, just like Reimer and Scrivens.
Young NHL goalie tandems
|Team||Season||Tandem||SV%||GAA||Personal record||Team record||Standings|
|Bruins||2005-2006||T. Thomas||0.917||2.77||12-13-10-||29-37-16||13th in East|
|2006-2007||T. Thomas||0.905||3.13||30-29-4-||35-41-6||13th in East|
|Sabres||2001-2002||M. Biron||0.915||2.22||31-28-10-||35-35-11-1||9th in East|
|Hurricanes||2005-2006||C. Ward||0.882||3.68||14-8-2-||52-22-8||2nd in East- Won Cup|
|Kings||2005-2006||J. Labarbera||0.9||2.89||11-9-2-||42-35-5||10th in West|
|2008-2009||J. Quick||0.914||2.48||21-18-2||34-37-11||14th in West|
|2009-2010||J. Quick||0.907||2.54||39-24-7||46-27-9||6th in West- Rd. 1|
|2010-2011||J. Quick||0.918||2.24||35-22-3||46-30-6||7th in West- Rd. 1|
|Wild||2007-2008||N. Backstrom||0.92||2.31||33-13-8-||44-28-10||3rd in West- Rd. 1|
|Habs||2008-2009||C. Price||0.905||2.83||23-16-10-||41-30-11||8th in East- Rd. 1|
|2009-2010||C. Price||0.912||2.77||13-20-5-||39-33-10||8th in East- ECF|
|Predators||2008-2009||P. Rinne||0.917||2.38||29-15-4||40-34-8||10th in West|
|2009-2010||P. Rinne||0.911||2.53||32-16-5||47-29-6||7th in West- Rd. 1|
|Islanders||1997-1998||W. Flaherty||0.926||1.99||4-4-3-||30-41-11||10th in East|
|2008-2009||Y. Danis||0.91||2.86||10-17-3||26-47-9||15th in East|
|Rangers||2007-2008||H. Lundqvist||0.912||2.23||37-24-10||42-27-13||5th in East- Rd. 2|
|Senators||2000-2001||P. Lalime||0.914||2.35||36-19-5||48-21-9-3||2nd in East- Rd. 1|
|Flyers||2000-2001||R. Cechmanek||0.921||2.01||35-15-6||43-25-11-2||4th in East- Rd. 1|
|2001-2002||R. Cechmanek||0.921||2.05||24-13-6||42-27-10-3||2nd in East- Rd. 2|
|2002-2003||R. Cechmanek||0.925||1.83||33-15-10||45-20-13-4||4th in East- Rd. 2|
|Sharks||2001-2002||E. Nabokov||0.918||2.29||37-24-5||44-27-8-3||3rd in West- Rd. 2|
|2002-2003||E. Nabokov||0.906||2.71||19-28-8||28-37-9-8||14th in West|
|2011-2012||A. Niemi||0.914||2.42||34-22-9||43-29-10||7th in West- Rd. 1|
|Leafs||2011-2012||J. Reimer||0.9||3.1||14-14-4||35-37-10||13th in East|
|Capitals||2010-2011||M. Neuvirth||0.914||2.45||27-12-4-||48-23-11||1st in East- Rd. 2|
Other than the Islanders and 2005-2006 Kings, along with a jury still out on Toronto, San Jose, and possibly Washington, all of the teams emerged with a bonafide number one for some period of time. From Tim Thomas and Jonathon Quick, to Patrick Lalime, Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeny Nabokov, these are just some of the goalies that emerged from young duos to become successful goalies in this league.
Further to the point, not all of these goalies were exactly dripping in pedigree and upside when they first began here. Tim Thomas was basically taking one last kick at the can after failing to stick in the NHL and going off to Europe during his first go-around, Lundqvist was a 7th round pick who worked his way to New York (sound familiar?), Quick, after quickly showing he was too good for the AHL, actually staved off a guy in Jonathon Bernier, who the Kings had drafted to be their guy in the first round.
Goaltending is by far the hardest position to predict, especially when it comes to drafting kids to be your starter five years down the road. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
That’s partly an endorsement on Luongo, but that’s also partly an endorsement on Reimer and Scrivens. Everybody knows Luongo is, at the very least, an above average goalie on a contract with an absurd term. The pros and cons of Luongo have already been covered by the masses, so there’s nothing really to add anymore.
But what the Leafs currently have, however, aren’t exactly bums. This isn’t the Islanders running a tandem of Yan Danis and Joey MacDonald. Dave Nonis actually summed it up best when he said, “The only issue I would have with our goaltending would be experience. It’s not that they’re not quality goalies.”
James Reimer, albeit in a limited amount of games, showed he could play in the NHL at a high level in his 37 game stint during the 2010-2011 season. Before then, he was good in the AHL, ECHL and in the WHL even before that. He didn’t just come out of nowhere to play 37 good games, causing Toronto to make a rash decision. He’s been a good goalie at every level he’s played at, has good size for position, and an even better mentality.
Meanwhile, Ben Scrivens has been one of the best goalies in the AHL for the last season and a half. Prior to being signed by the Leafs, he absolutely dominated the college circuit. He too has shown flashes at the NHL level of being able to compete at a high level.
So what does this all mean? That if the Leafs run with Scrivens and Reimer, eventually one will step up and become a star? Not necessarily. However, in my estimation, it means enough to me that I’d be willing to run with the two in a 48 game season to see if one emerges as the clear front runner between the two. Clearly Scrivens has the advantage because he’s in midseason form, but Reimer is in the same boat as most NHL goalies at the moment (having not played actual games during the lockout), and hopefully, for his sake, he will be able to get his game going and subsequently create an environment in which both goalies challenge each other for starts nightly.
James Reimer ($1.8M) and Ben Scrivens (612k) are both under contract for next year at extremely cheap deals for goalies. If both play well, the Leafs can just keep both again and go from there. If only one plays well, they can easily cut bait with the other and look to bring in a more experienced guy to support the one who wins the gig (Backstrom, Thomas, Theodore and Garon are all UFAs and solid goalies). And if they both struggle? I’m sure Luongo will still be available. Nobody else seems to want him anyway.
Line combinations will be discussed ad nauseam in the coming weeks as the season kicks off and the Leafs try to get off to a winning start in a shortened season. The general speculation will surround who should play with who in order to maximize results.
While winning is of course the main the goal of why lines are the way they are, they can tell also tell us other things that are arguably just as important as winning in this 48 game season.
Coming off a season that saw the Leafs in a playoff spot for the better part of the first 56 games before collapsing, Leafs fans expected changes and heads to roll in the summer. A head eventually rolled, but the lineup still remains largely the same.
Out went Luke Schenn, Jonas Gustavsson, Joey Crabb and Colby Armstrong, in came James van Riemsdyk, Jay McClement, and eventually some Marlies transfers. More or less though, this is the same group that netted the Leafs the fifth overall pick last June.
Some will call it the rearranging of the Titanic deck chairs, others will say it’s moving forward with a team that was often the youngest in the league last season. Either way, it’s Randy Carlyle who is in charge now, and just what he does with the lineup to start will be a fascinating insight into his mind frame going into the season.
There are certainly options.
The Carlyle line building of a top line, shutdown line, scoring line and energy line can at least attempt to be made by having the Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line as the top trio, Kulemin-McClement-Frattin as the shutdown line, JVR-Grabovski-MacArthur as a scoring line, and Komarov-Steckel-Brown as an energy unit. It’s not perfect, but it would be a clear indication that the Leafs as a whole are trying to employ Carlyle’s system to a ‘T’ immediately while trying to see who fits his mould and who does not.
Maybe that’s partially what Carlyle meant when he said earlier this week that, “We’re looking for some people to step out of their comfort zone, We’re going to push this group a little bit harder in some areas where they’re not used to being pushed.” Whether those forward groups help the team win or not, at least it would allow the Leafs to see who is worth investing in for this style of play and system that they believe in, and who is not. It would also coincide with James Mirtle’s recent article regarding McClement being ‘the stopper.’
That said, when it comes to making lines to try and maximize what’s been given to win right now, it might be more sensible to try and create three scoring lines. The Kessel line is all but a lock (see Jonas Siegel’s tweet) to start the year no matter what happens, so we don’t need to keep repeating that. Carlyle could follow them by putting the Grabovski line back together (which would represent a two-way shutdown line of sorts), followed by a sheltered line of JVR-Connolly-Kadri and then some combination of Komarov/Lombardi-McClement-Frattin on the fourth.
If we consider Carlyle’s comments to be clues into what he is truly thinking when it comes to line building, his remarks regarding Connolly (see Mirtle’s tweet) make it appear that this three scoring line theme is what’s most likely. If that wasn’t enough, this should further support that notion: “I think we have a chance to put some people in different situations up higher in our lineup and move some people around and that should give us balance and three lines of some form of offence,” he said. “The one thing we looked at is our fourth line is going to have to play. Everybody is going to have to make a contribution.”
Carlyle has also noted that, “You stay true to the statement we’re going to take the 23 best players and take them and go forward with that group. If someone earns an opportunity, that’s the life of pro sports.”
Then there is the little decisions, such as – will he push Nazem Kadri into the roster and finally give him a real and extended shot at proving his worth? Will he dress an enforcer? Will Steckel make the lineup now that McClement is on the team? The list goes on and on. We could sit here all day thinking up questions and line combinations.
Answers will start coming soon enough, but we won’t just be finding out if Carlyle has the magic touch to create winning lining combinations, we’ll also be finding out about what kind of team he’s putting together, the statements he is making, and how he views this roster.
Ron Wilson, for example, attempted to fight fire with fire last year for long stretches by playing Kessel’s line against the other teams top lines. Will Carlyle try the same? As maybe the most strict match-up coach in hockey, he probably won’t; but who will he trust to play against the Crosby’s, Giroux’s and Stamkos’ of the East? Grabovski or McClement? How much offense will he sacrifice in order to play at least adequate defense? There really are so many questions about this team at the moment that we don’t know the answer to but are about to begin finding out.
I for one, can’t wait.
Here are some notes heading into a hectic opening week that sees the Leafs play the Habs, Sabres, Penguins, Islanders and Rangers:
- Carlyle’s comments on Kadri saying that, “It’s not a matter of if he can play in the NHL, it’s a matter of when.” As well as, “Bobby Ryan spent three or four years developing. I think Nazem Kadri is in the same boat. I think he has the ability to play in the National Hockey League. It’s a question of when he is going to be given that opportunity or earned that opportunity. And we’re here about earning it.” This translate to me as, “We want him here right now, but there might not be room for him.” Whether you like him or not, he’s clearly proven he has nothing left to do at the AHL. It’s just a matter of clearing some for him up so that he’ll get a fair opportunity to not only get ice time, but be put in a position to succeed.
- Speaking of Bobby Ryan, Carlyle had him start in the AHL due to cap restrictions before he finally cracked the team for good. Kadri should be with the Leafs, but there’s a decent chance he has to wait just a little bit longer until the Leafs can clear a body or two and make some room for him.
I don’t know if Rielly will play more than the five games rookies are allowed to play for free, but it sure sounds like the Leafs want to give him that five and see what he’s all about. The Gardiner injury just makes it that much easier for them to do so.
- The Morgan Rielly watch has been interesting to say the least, with the majority of fans I’ve spoken to hoping he goes back to junior. The one thing that isn’t talked about when it comes to Rielly, is the fact that he could join the Marlies for a playoff run the same way Stuart Percy did last year. So, if he gets the five NHL games in (six means he would lose a year on his ELC), then goes back to junior, then joins the Marlies for a playoff run only a few months from now, is that the worse thing ever? Plus, of course, he played for Team Canada this year. The question with Rielly can’t be whether or not he helps this team right now, the question has to be how do the Leafs develop him best in the next few months to help the team next year. If they think that’s by being with Randy Carlyle and learning directly from him right away, so be it. But I won’t buy the “so he can get experience” line, because should he join the Marlies he’ll have an opportunity to win a championship in professional hockey this season.
I went through some notes from old Leafs Notebooks back from when Carlyle first got here to help refresh my memory, and write some of these next few points.
- It’s been interesting to hear Carlyle talk about the up tempo game he wants to play with the team and how he wants to use their speed. Last year, Carlyle and the Leafs ran a 1-2-2 quite a bit down the stretch. Most fans may remember the games against Boston in particular where the Leafs attempted to trap them. If he’s combining their speed and the trap, they will become a counterattack team, but it sounds like he wants to make them a heavy forechecking team instead. I wonder if the Leafs plan on sending two forecheckers in, or just one. The issue with one is that the Leafs don’t have many big, physical forwards that are adept at taking the body, overpowering D-men, and creating turnovers, and the issue with sending two is that the Leafs aren’t very great defensively or in net. My guess is Carlyle will play it tight and send in one guy. They do have some strong guys in Kulemin, Lupul, JVR and Frattin, but they have to do it consistently.
- One thing that will work when it comes to generating speed is that Carlyle likes to breakout through the middle of the ice. That means centers such as Bozak, Grabovski and McClement will have to come very deep into the zone, and generate speed, plus the D-men will have to give good crisp outlet passes. This is one way to use the team’s speed to the best of its abilities without sacrificing defensive play. Breaking out along the boards causes the wingers to stand still more, and for only two forwards to really come out of the defensive zone with speed; the winger who has the puck come to his side of the zone is more or less flat footed as he picks up the puck along the boards, and then he has to catch guys who are going full speed. But, if you can get the center the puck in stride in your own zone, the wingers can take off and the whole forward line can move up the ice together.
- At the end of last season, Matt Frattin was getting a ton of opportunity to play with guys like Kessel and Grabovski. It will be interesting to see if he gets that opportunity again. Now, Lupul and Kulemin are healthy, and the Leafs have added JVR. If there’s one thing to give the Leafs, it’s that they are relatively deep on the wing.
- One thing never mentioned in correlation to Leo Komarov playing for Carlyle is that Randy had a similar player play under him in Max Lapierre. There could be a number of reasons why he only lasted 21 games, but he only lasted 21 games. Time will tell, but I thought that was worth noting.
- Carlyle took Liles off the top PP unit at times last year and put Gardiner there instead. Whenever Gardiner comes back, it will be interesting to see whether it is Liles or Gardiner, or both, getting PP time with Phaneuf. Before Liles got hurt last season, he and Phaneuf were doing an excellent job together and the PP was getting results.
- Thought this was an interesting quote from Connolly: “Even strength, I think I had my second-highest career points last year. I’d like to improve my play on the power play and play a bigger role. Penalty killing, my individual percentage was 89.7 I read somewhere. I was able to lead the forwards in blocked shots.” While I agree that he probably would have produced around the same rate as Bozak had he been centering Kessel and Lupul plus took his PP time, I don’t believe he was entitled to that ice time and spot in the lineup just because of his contract and veteran status. Sort of sounds like he does. Maybe I just read it the wrong way.
- If the Leafs are truly going to give Mike Komisarek a chance to succeed, the only player they can pair him with is JM Liles. With Gardiner out and Gunnarsson-Phaneuf representing the top pairing, the other D-men in camp are Holzer, Fraser, Rielly, Franson and Kostka. Three of those guys are righties and don’t play the left (Franson was terrible on the left side last year, while Holzer and Kostka don’t play on their offside in the AHL, so it makes no sense to switch them to the left in either of their first NHL season), while the two lefties are Fraser (these two would have been a good pairing 15 years ago) and Rielly. At least Liles is a veteran and can handle the puck so Komisarek doesn’t have to that much, plus he can make strong breakout passes. Thus, if the Leafs are going to play Komisarek and give him a chance, I’d guess the D looks like this come Saturday: Gunnarsson-Phaneuf, Liles-Komisarek, Rielly-Franson.
- Last year the Leafs ended the season with Connolly on their shutdown line. It’s also noteworthy to point out he ended his career in Buffalo by playing a checking role. So with that, who’s to say Carlyle doesn’t put together a Kulemin-McClement-Connolly shutdown line to start the year? Obviously Connolly isn’t the big physical grinder many expect for that sort of role, but here are some positives: Connolly is a sound positional player, Connolly can make other teams pay in their own zone, and he can take faceoffs – plus he’s a righty to McClement’s lefty – should Jay get kicked out of the dot. I’m not advocating for this, but it is definitely worth pointing out. This would certainly coincide with Carlyle’s comments about putting Connolly in the top nine, and creating three lines that can contribute offensively. That would leave the second line as MacArthur-Grabovski-JVR, in that scenario.
- Quick story: one year when I was playing hockey we had a goalie tryout for our team that was absolutely terrible. And I do mean terrible. As in, when we were lining up for drills we would call our shots because we were scoring every time. This guy was trying out to be our backup since we already had a very good number one, by the way. Anyway, our goalie coach said to take him because he was the best structured goalie. I thought he was nuts. Lo and behold, we bring this kid in as our backup, and he ends up being the best goalie in the league, carrying us to the Conference Finals. It is at this point I noted two things: one) I know nothing about goaltending, and two) leave the goaltending coaching to the professionals and stay the heck out of their way. I bring this up because there was talk earlier in the week about how Randy Carlyle was more or less staying away from the goalies. Some people were puzzled and questioned it, but I say good for him. Carlyle was a D-man and is an old school hockey guy, how much does he actually know about today’s NHL goalies?
- Finally, I’ll end on this: These guys haven’t played an NHL game since April of last year. That’s almost a full year ago. They are going to be rusty, they are going to make mistakes, and there will probably more than a few head scratching moments in the upcoming week. Let’s give them some time and have some patience. I won’t say it’s a long year, because it won’t be, and I’m sure we all realize the importance of a fast start in a 48 game season, but mistakes are inevitable due to the circumstances. Remember that.
Questions for you all: I’ve been toying with adding “sections” to the Notebook such as Leafs tweets of the week, quotes of the week, etc, and I’m wondering if any of you have anything you’d like to see every Monday in this section in addition to the usual preamble and notes. Let me know. Thanks!
Former NFL coach Buddy Ryan once famously said, ‘If you listen to the fans, you’ll be sitting up there with them.’
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, it means that, as a GM or coach of a pro franchise, your job is to do what is best for the team regardless of what the fans believe. Thus, when a person is commenting on the Leafs and says, “Toronto isn’t patient enough to let the Leafs rebuild,” I can’t help but wonder what the hell they are talking about, and why it would even matter.
Let’s start with the facts, which suggest this isn’t even true to begin with.
The Leafs have sucked, or at best been mediocre on the whole, since the lockout of 2004-05 passed (side note, having to distinguish between lockouts now is absolutely embarrassing; thanks, NHL). Yet what do you see when you watch, or go to, Leafs games? Fans. Has merchandise magically stopped selling in Leafs-land? No. Have people stopped tuning into HNIC to watch the Leafs? Not that I’m aware of (frankly, I wouldn’t mind if people did, because then CBC wouldn’t assign their “number one” announcer Jim Hughson to announce Leafs games).
Here are some figures courtesy of Forbes to consider. The Leafs average ticket price is $120, the next highest is $96 (Habs). Even with that obscenely high ticket price, and lacklustre play, the Leafs rank fifth in average attendance according to ESPN , and the only reason they aren’t higher is because they don’t have as many seats to sell as the teams ahead of them. In terms of percentage of the arena filled, the Leafs rank third, behind only Philadelphia and Chicago, who are pretty well perennial contenders.
The Leafs also, according to Forbes, are the highest revenue grossing team at $200M. The next four teams are the Rangers, Canadiens, Canucks and Bruins. All four of those teams have gone to at least the Conference Finals within the last three seasons. Whereas the Leafs, in the last seven seasons, have finished accordingly: 18th, 18th, 24th, 24th, 29th, 22nd, and 26th.
Standings wise, the Leafs have more or less been trending toward a rebuild. The irony, of course, is that they’ve been conducting business as if they are doing anything but.
Don’t forget, either, that Forbes recently reported that the Leafs are the NHL’s first billion dollar franchise.
So those are facts. They basically read that the Leafs are as profitable ever, fill their arena as much as they ever have, and have sucked throughout the process.
Now for the second part of the equation, which is, actually listening to the fans versus doing what is best for the team.
The bottom line reads that, if any franchise is listening to their fans compared to the guys that they give millions of dollars to to make decisions, then there is a problem.
The irony of fans getting mad at ownership for dictating what a GM does, while also getting mad when that same GM doesn’t do what they want him to do, is almost too rich for words.
I mean, if the Leafs aren’t going to rebuild because the fans wouldn’t tolerate it, then they might as well put a poll up on Leafs.com right before they are about to make any and every transaction.
What’s the worst thing that would even happen should the Leafs ever decide to just tear it all down and literally start from scratch with top draft picks? The fans stop coming? If the above stats didn’t convince you that fans would clearly not stop coming, then nothing will.
What’s the other drawback? Fan backlash? The only reason fans have been so pissed off over the last few years is because the Leafs repeatedly stated that they won’t rebuild traditionally, yet were doing terribly regardless. They brought the pressure on themselves. Whether you agree or not with that isn’t the point, the point is that the average fan got genuinely excited when Burke came to town and appeared ready to turn the franchise around right away, then didn’t. It’s the comment I personally receive most from most people, that he “hyped everyone up, then didn’t produce ****. “
If someone in charge of the Leafs frankly states, “This is going to be a slow rebuild, but we will use the draft to accumulate elite talent over a few years and then rise,” are there fans that will seriously be mad throughout those seasons? Frustrated, no doubt; it sucks watching your team lose. But when a guy is clear with you about the direction he’s taking, and you begin to see elite players in the system coming up – I haven’t spoken with one Leafs fan in three months who isn’t tickled pink about Morgan Rielly – then what is anyone seriously going to get mad about? Yeah, Leafs fans are extremely passionate, but if it’s laid out for them like that and it’s easy to see the actual plan coming together, only the special kind of Leafs fans would actually be mad about that.
The Leafs have come to a point, as a team, where they are one of the punch-lines of the league. It is sad, but it is true. They are right up there with the Islanders and Blue Jackets, and man does it pain me to say that. While I do personally believe they are somewhat on the rise – especially if they get a certain goalie – there actually isn’t much further they could have sunk in the past few years.
Yet here we are, even after another ridiculous lockout, clamouring for them.
So let’s not turn this into a “THIS is why the Leafs never win, because fans always come!” debate, or even discuss whether the Leafs should just completely tear it down and rebuild right this second (that wouldn’t make sense at this point). This isn’t even really a discussion on the state of the current team; it’s purely about whether the Leafs could do a slow rebuild in Toronto.
Let’s also not pretend we would stop watching if the Leafs tanked, or if we actually did stop watching for a bit because they sucked, that we would not return after they’ve accumulated more than a few elite young talents and started morphing into a Cup contender ala Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc.
Let’s call this exactly the two things that it is: One: the fans can clearly be patient enough for a rebuild, and two: whoever is in charge of the team has to do whatever he thinks is best for the team regardless of what the fans believe, the Leafs winning (eventually) is what is most important.
The Leafs most likely aren’t going to rebuild anytime soon, so all of this is generally speaking moot. That said, it’s time to stop listening to the dribble that says “Toronto would neither tolerate, nor have the patience for, a true rebuild.” That’s just not true.
When the NHL finally decided to have a season last week, many Leafs fans knew Brian Burke was on thin ice. There was a large segment of fans who believed Burke had only the upcoming shortened season to turn things around. Arguably, there was an even bigger group of fans who believed Burke had the current season, and then the offseason – where two of his former star players could be available – to turn the Leafs into a contender.
No one believed Burke wouldn’t oversee the Leafs starting the season on January 19th.
Brian Burke arrived in Toronto full of high expectations and bravado back in 2008. Ultimately, he leaves labelled a failure for not making the playoffs during his three-and-a-half-season tenure.
What not enough fans and pundits will do is wait and assess the true mark Burke left on the Leafs franchise once it’s realized.
Toronto is currently the second youngest team in the NHL. Their top players have yet to either play their best hockey, or are currently in their primes. And no matter what happens this season, they will go into the summer armed with only $39 million committed in salary and that’s if they don’t buyout Mike Komisarek.
There are undoubtedly numerous flaws on the current NHL roster, but there are pieces in place within the organization that could possibly fill some of the holes not presently filled, and now there is ample cap space to supplement whatever the young players can’t.
The simple fact of the matter is that Burke inherited a mess. Was he given an appropriate amount of time to fix it? Probably not. Should the Leafs be a better team than what they currently are, though? There’s a good argument to be made that they should be. But now, at the very least, Burke has set up the organization for success moving forward. Should they begin to achieve that success, he will deserve at least a share of the recognition and gratitude.
Nazem Kadri is the only player drafted under Burke’s reign that has played an NHL game to this point. While maybe that does say something about his draft record with Toronto – and it’s a maybe because he purposely lets his players develop slowly – chances are there will be some effective NHLers that emerge among the other 28 players selected under his supervision. The infamously incompetent JFJ left the Leafs some players that are only beginning to emerge in Carl Gunnarsson, James Reimer, Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin. Considering Burke allocated many more resources into scouting and developing the farm team, it should eventually pay-off. The extent of that pay off we we won’t truly know for years.
Of course, this is not what fans expected from Burke when he was hired in 2009. Back then, if fans were told he’d make some good trades, some bad UFA signings, and the team wouldn’t finish within even the top 18 of the NHL overall, they would be pissed.
Maybe part of the problem all along with Burke was the level of expectations set for him, a large part of which he was responsible for himself. The Phil Kessel trade, regardless of how you feel about it, certainly didn’t do him any favours either in the grand scheme of things, pressure wise.
Burke took a job that, in retrospect, he was going to be unlikely to see through to the good stuff. Even if you measure all the transactions he made, in which the good most definitely outweighs the bad, the fact that the Leafs are where they still are is blamed squarely on his shoulders when really it’s a testament to what he had to begin with.
Let’s not forget that the first season and a half of his time with the Leafs was spent basically blowing up the roster he inherited. Only then did he really start addressing the holes on the roster. Currently, the Leafs have three top 4 D-men in Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson and Jake Gardiner, along with a blue-chip prospect in the pipeline named Morgan Rielly. There are three legitimate top six forwards that are part of the present and future in Phil Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski, and James van Riemsdyk. Beyond that there are players such as Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur and Nazem Kadri who have shown the abilities or potential to be top six forwards, not to mention other potential or current contributors such as Kulemin, Matt Frattin, Josh Leivo, Greg McKegg and Jerry D’Amigo.
Clearly, the pieces assembled aren’t enough for the Leafs to think of competing for a Cup anytime soon. Nevertheless, it’s even more clear that Burke was setting himself up for what he had hoped would be a big summer. Now, he’ll never get the chance to take that step and we’ll never know what would have happened.
In the coming days, many will talk about what Burke didn’t do in his time here; what he should have done, what he could have done, and how he never made the playoffs. In reality, the real conversation regarding Burke’s true work – which was an approach built around youth – really needs to take place years from now when it actually comes to fruition.
As a tribute to the Burke-ian metaphor, I’ll conclude by saying that you can’t judge a farmer just based on the seeds he planted.
Brian Burke planted many seeds in his time here, and we’ve yet to see the yield.
At this point in time, it is probably fair to call Morgan Rielly the most hyped Leafs prospect since Wendel Clark. I don’t know whether or not that’s fair, but with great hype comes great expectations.
To this point, Rielly hasn’t done anything to really quash the excitement that is building for him. He’s scored electric goals, he’s played well for Canada in the past, and now he’s on the World Juniors team.
In essence, Rielly is following the path of many elite defensemen before him. With that in mind, I collected some stats on how players he’s been compared to have performed in this tournament. Hopefully, it will serve as some sort of barometer on what to expect from the young Leafs prospect.[table "70" not found /]
- Brian Leetch was named to the First All-Star Team in 1987.
- Brian Campbell was named a first team all-star for the tournament.
- Dion Phaneuf was a first team all-star both years, and named the outstanding defenseman of the tournament.
- Side note: Phaneuf’s World Juniors along with his first three NHL seasons of 49, 50 and 60 points respectively was absolutely ridiculous.
- Kris Letang was captain and a tournament all-star of the 2007 tournament.
- Drew Doughty was named a tournament all-star, and given the Directorate Award for Best D-man.
- Unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of this, but some of you may remember Drew Doughty getting beat badly one-on-one by a Swedish player with under 10 seconds left in a 3-3 round robin game which resulted in Canada losing 4-3. Just goes to show you even the best have their weak moments.
- Erik Karlsson was a tournament all-star and named the tournament’s best D-man. He led his team in scoring and was tied with PK Subban for most points by a defenseman.
- Jake Gardiner was not named to or awarded anything. He did, however, win a gold medal.
If the first game was any indication, Morgan Rielly will be in tough to match these accomplishments. Yes, he notched an assist (which he doesn’t appear to have been officially credited for), but he was seeing second unit power play time, no PK time and was on Canada’s third pairing. How you go from being on the top pairing in exhibition games to that, I do not know, but it is what it is.
The saving grace is they’ve only played the first game of the tournament thus far, and by all accounts Rielly appears to be superior to many of the D-men that played ahead of him. But, unless he receives the necessary ice time under Steve Spott moving forward, he isn’t going to flourish.
Furthermore, this is a tournament dominated by 19 year olds, and Morgan is only 18. While one year may not seem like a big deal, in this tournament clearly it is. Predictably, the three players charted above who played more than one year in the WJC all had their worst point totals in their first year. With that, you need to take Rielly’s point totals with a grain of salt.
We will continue to track Rielly’s progress as the tournament moves forward. While we’ve created some sort of benchmark –and it’s a ridiculously high one at that – to judge him by, it is important to note that this tournament will not make or break him.
Regardless of what happens during the WJCs, he’s still an excellent prospect. But, it would be nice to see him excel here. Especially since he’s playing for a terrible Moose Jaw team that is nowhere near contention this season and apparently won’t trade him.
I found a few old links that are worth the read and keep things in perspective:
- In which Dion Phaneuf’s head coach Brent Sutter compares him to Scott Stevens.
- In which Jake Gardiner’s college head coach says “if he makes the NHL” and thinks he won’t be a top pairing PPQB.
- In which Morgan Rielly’s current junior head coach compares him to Brian Leetch.