Listening to Maple Leafs’ Vice President of Hockey Operations, Dave Poulin, brought about some interesting thoughts as we wind our way toward this year’s edition of the NHL Trade Deadline. During his conversation, Poulin talked about building a team and an organization as you would a house and property. The analogy is one that speaks to patience and careful planning, something that is necessary for any successful front office staff, when it comes to building a winning product.
Looking at the foundation upon which the house that Burke and Co. has put together, it’s easy to forget that before Burke was brought to Toronto to lead the organization, it would have been difficult to look through the organizational depth chart, and find a solid pillar for the future. Since his arrival, Burke has made a number of moves to improve a talent pool that was on serious life support in terms of young talent. Through drafting alone (something that Burke has taken heat for in his time here), Burke has added first round picks in the likes of forwards Nazem Kadri and Tyler Biggs, as well as the smart, economical defenseman, Stuart Percy from the Mississauga Majors. He supplemented those selections with picks from rounds 2-7 with promising youngsters such as Gregg McKegg, Sondre Olden, Josh Nicholls, and Bradley Ross. Burke and Co. have approached the draft with a clear strategy, adding size and skill to the prospect pool, and for better or worse, fans of the organization are soon to see these selections given the chance to show their stuff at the AHL level.
The most important thing that Burke and his team of executives have done in his 4-year tenure with the Blue and White is add cornerstones through trade. The much-debated trade for Phil Kessel was the first major move that Burke made, adding a cornerstone talent to the organization, in a move that divided the fan base. Kessel’s talent is not in question, and shouldn’t be at this point, given that he currently sits among the top-5 in league scoring. In landing Phil, Burke surrendered two first round selections, and a second round selection to the Boston Bruins, and allowed the Bruins to land Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The miscalculation of the team’s ability at the time of the trade is well known, and is the subject of the on-going argument among fans as to whether or not the trade was beneficial to the club’s long term success. Whether or not you believe in the move, Burke added the missing piece from the Sundin era, the high scoring winger.
The second pillar that was added was Captain Dion Phaneuf. In a trade that sent pieces like Matt Stajan and Jamal Mayers to Calgary, Burke was able to not only pry Dion, but talented young defenseman Keith Aulie. The addition of Aulie is what sweetened the pot. Calgary was looking to shake up their roster, and Burke was able to turn a mole hill’s worth of talent into a mountain-esque return. In Dion’s time here, we’ve seen the return of his offensive game, as he struggled in the early stages of his Leaf career. Keith Aulie remains one of the organizations top prospects, as he has seen time with both the Leafs and the Marlies, and continues to round out his trade to become a full-time NHL defenseman.
The last player to discuss, in terms of pillars, is one that is currently cementing his status as just that. Young defenseman Jake Gardiner, acquired as the incentive in the deal for Joffrey Lupul, has stepped into the spotlight this season, and is making his case for being a future top pairing defender. Gardiner has the ability to take over the play from the back-end, and on a number of occasions this season, has been the best player on the ice in Blue and White. His skating is some of the best on the team, and at times, Gardiner has displayed poise and patience beyond his years. As is the case with any young player making the transition to pro hockey, Gardiner has had problems with turnovers, and getting caught on the pinch, but increased trust and TOI awarded to him by the coaching staff has certainly paid off.
Honourable mentions would go to talents like Matt Frattin, who at times, has shown NHL ready ability on both the rush and the back check. Joe Colborne is yet another, added in the Kaberle trade, as well as Jesse Blacker, a defenseman chosen 58th overall in the 2009 draft.
Although not all of the young talent made this article, the point of the matter is this: Burke and his team have made great strides to not only build a foundation, but build pieces around it. Leading up to the deadline, in one week’s time, there will be a lot of pressure on management to acquire a key piece to help get the club into the playoffs for the first time since the lockout. As Poulin stated this morning, the key to the process is patience and poise, knowing that a move cannot be made unless it improves your house going forward in the long term. Given this model, it’s hard to imagine Burke mortgaging the future for Rick Nash, even if bringing home the GTA native would see his statue built in the front yard.
It seems like a long shot; more of a silent hope and a prayer than something that actually seems possible of happening. Its seems like something that could only happen in NHL 12, but recent events have made a Rick Nash to Toronto deal look as though it could be possible.
Just this morning Toronto GM, Brian Burke, met with Columbus GM, Scott Howson. It is reported that they both enjoyed the continental breakfast and shared a side of pancakes, but even more interesting is that they discussed hockey! Now lets not get too ahead of ourselves here. Burke is known to pull off the big trade (i.e.. Dion Phaneuf), and it seems like the Leafs finally have the assets to make something like this happen with the likes of Luke Schenn, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, and Joe Colborne. Some of these players would probably have to be sent packing.
Even more intriguing are rumours that Howson is looking to package Nash, and once promising goalie Steve Mason. I have been told that Mason has been reading the “Andrew Raycroft Biography: So thats hockey?”, and it seems to be affecting his play as of late. However, if there is validity to this, Columbus will need a goalie in return so either Jonas Gustavsson, or James Reimer would have to be part of the package.
In pure speculation, I would assume the deal would be structured somewhat like this:
To Columbus: 1st round pick (maybe one more), Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Luke Schenn, James Reimer/Jonas Gustavsson
To Toronto: Rick Nash, Steve Mason
So cross every finger and toe you have, say a little prayer every night until the trade deadline, and carry at least 5 lucky horseshoes on your person at all times.
If good old Burkie can pull off this deal, I think it will be a given that he never has to do up his tie ever again (not that he does anyway).