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In two days my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs drop the puck on home ice for the start of the 2010-2011 season, and like many fans in Leafs Nation I am anxious to see if this is the year the Leafs get over the hump to join the Eastern Conference playoffs again. By any measure, it's been a brutal stretch that has seen the famed club set all-time lows for consecutive seasons without a playoff berth in its history. The point is particularly pronounced for me as I was in attendance at the last playoff game the Leafs played when Jeremy Roenick scored on a 2-on-1 break in OT to silence the 20,000+ crowd that was on its feet at the Air Canada Centre from the moment the Leafs scored 2 in the final 10 minutes of the 3rd period to send the game into Overtime.

The stretch of futility for the Leafs is even more startling from a statistics perspective. Consider this: all else being equal, if the chances of getting into the post season are 1/2 (15 teams in the East, 8 make it to the Post-Season), and there are only two outcomes (getting in or not), the Leafs have matched the least likely negative outcome in missing the NHL's second season all 6 years since the lockout. The odds of doing so are about 1.5% (1/64), which is what the Toronto Maple Leafs have done. The only other team to have missed the Playoffs since the lockout is the Florida Panthers, and even they made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

If there's a hint of light at the end of the tunnel it's that virtually all prognosticators will agree that the Leafs are headed in the right direction. And if you disagree, surely you'd concede that just like betting 'red' at Roulette will eventually mean you win (or lose), the Leafs can't continue on the path of one statistical anomaly to another, can they?! This stretch of futility cannot surely continue in perpetuity, can it!? Which brings me to the reason I wrote this entry.

I have a bone to pick with Leafs GM, Brian Burke. It seems to me that Burke is more interested in pandering to some egalitarian cause than in ensuring the Leafs use every means at their disposal to give themselves the best chance at the Post Season. Many readers are familiar with Burke's insistence that he will not use front-loaded contracts to attract stars to Toronto. Burke believes that the contracts recently signed by Richards with the Rangers, and Kovalchuk with the Devils amount to cap circumvention, and he certainly has a point. But Burke is losing focus on the bigger question: "so what?!" If other teams are structuring Free Agent deals in this manner and the league is signing off on them, then clearly the contracts are within the rules even if they violate the spirit with which the Collective Bargaining Agreement was negotiated in 2005. Need I remind Burke that he is first and foremost an employee of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his primary objective ought to be to use any and all means at his disposal to improve the on-ice product? If he decides to forego a free agent because he feels the price is too high or the player is not an ideal fit, I'm comfortable with that. Burke was, afterall, brought on board to make those kinds of decisions and, at the end of the day, his record will speak for itself. But I'm not comfortable with Burke declaring that the Leafs will not sign these sorts of contracts even when the Leafs have plenty of cap room and a fit makes sense with the organization. Burke: you're a NHL General Manager and not NHL Commissioner. Do your job: improve the Leafs however way you can. To say that you will not use front-loaded contracts to improve the team is like me saying I wont increase the number of hours I will work if my goal is to increase my income.

Now, onto this season. I'm generally a optimistic fan and anyone that knows me knows how much I love the Leafs. Every year for the last 6 I've hoped and prayed that this would be the year my team would play meaningful games in April and May. But my normal enthusiasm is tempered by a bit of pragmatism this time around. I'm not sure the Leafs have done enough to sufficiently improve to unseat one of the incumbents in the Eastern Conference. I don't see Tim Connolly playing even half of the season (he's already injured with an 'Upper Body Injury') and Reimer has not looked good so far in the pre-season. At this point the only real bright spots are Kuleimin and Grabovski, whom I believe will continue to mature and excel. I see 65+ point seasons for both of them. Grabovski, in particular, has looked amazing and if he surpasses the 70 point total I may actually consider naming my first born Mikhail. Of course, his middle name will be something easily pronounceable so that he's not bullied all his childhood and adolescent years.

Go Leafs Go.
http://nfarzan.blogspot.com/
 

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I'm with you. The Leafs hired Burke to run their club, not as guardian of the spirit of the CBA. In the words of Jean Pierre Sarti, from the movie "Grand Prix":

"There is no bad way to win. There is only winning."
He's Goddamn right about that.

Daryl
 

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I think the fear is...

The team has 4 very good players at current (in no order):

Phaneuf
Kessel
Grabovski
Kulemin

The first 2 are already expensive. (6.5 and 5.4 respectively). The latter two are free agents after this year. Kulemin is still an RFA and more than likely is not going anywhere. Grabo on the other hand, if he repeats last year is looking at a big raise. I would be surprised if he didn't get 5.5-6 million in the current market.

So now you have 4 expensive guys, added to the existing two, not to mention the not cheap MacArthur, Connolly, Lombardi, Komisarek, Schenn, Lupul, Armstrong (all over 3 million).

So if this team misses this year, there will be no cap space to add an elite player (Parise, Semin... type player).

So if this year is a 100% repeat of last year, the team next summer has a cap problem, and is no closer to competing, and is in a situation where it can't draft an elite player, and can't sign one either. Once again, a complete tear down time.

This is a real make it or break it year for more than just Wilson, but the whole next decade of the club, as if the club doesn't get it done, it could be another full rebuild.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
You make a good point, Tyler. There is indeed a ton of pressure on the Leafs to perform this year. The Leafs could be in a bit of a pickle next year, but I don't see how that precludes them from going out sign a stud - i.e. Parise or Stamkos - to an offer sheet. Those kinds of players (superstars) are rare and I bet neither Landeskog, Seguin or NH come to their potential. While top draft picks are nice, the draft still is a bit of a crap shoot. Recall, for instance, that Perry was a 20-something pick, while the Blue Jackets have consistently drafted high but with no results to show for it other than Nash, who was a cant-miss prospect.

Burke is stubborn to a fault, and that's not meant to be a compliment. He needs to practice what he preaches and play by the rules like others.
 

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You make a good point, Tyler. There is indeed a ton of pressure on the Leafs to perform this year. The Leafs could be in a bit of a pickle next year, but I don't see how that precludes them from going out sign a stud - i.e. Parise or Stamkos - to an offer sheet. Those kinds of players (superstars) are rare and I bet neither Landeskog, Seguin or NH come to their potential. While top draft picks are nice, the draft still is a bit of a crap shoot. Recall, for instance, that Perry was a 20-something pick, while the Blue Jackets have consistently drafted high but with no results to show for it other than Nash, who was a cant-miss prospect.

Burke is stubborn to a fault, and that's not meant to be a compliment. He needs to practice what he preaches and play by the rules like others.
You want him to sign Parise and/or Stamkos to offer sheets? There is a reason you don't just do that. First off both teams would probably match any offer for either of these guys. Parise is the face of the Devils franchise and losing him would mean they would be in deeper financial trouble. Stamkos is a 50 goal scorer who can consistently put up 90 points for hte next decade. He would probably boost the Leafs right into the 7th or 6th play off spot. Do you think Tampa would lose that for 4 mid - late first rounders? That may amount to nothing. Like you mentioned with CBJ 1st rounders don't mean jack s*** if they don't pan out.

In the end offer sheeting either of them would just not work out. The team would match any offer and if they found out Burke offer sheeted Parise or Stammers they could come right back at us and offer up Schenn a big contract.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Pretty sure the Leafs would take 2 1st rounders for Schenn on anyone else on their roster, though. :)
 

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Pretty sure the Leafs would take 2 1st rounders for Schenn on anyone else on their roster, though. :)
That depends. Where would these first rounders end up. With tampa getting a young stay at home to play along side Hedman, you basically get two mid-late first rounders for Schenn? A proven Top 4 NHL defenseman. I really don't like that.

Also i wouldn't trade Kessel for 2 first rounders. I think he has the potential to be a ppg player no problem in this league. He is beginning to evolve and you can see it in his game. He's fighting harder in the corners and starting to skate hard on the back check. He is beginning to realize if he passes off, accelerates, and gets it back a lot of defenseman don't have an answer for his speed.

Grabovski is in the same boat as Kessel. I like him. He has heart, speed, creativity and great passing ability to go with it. The amount of heart and passion Grabo shows for the game is something you can't teach a player and is something that is hard to spot. He always wants to improve and he is still doing so.

Kulemin is another player that i would be hesitant to pull the trigger on for 2 first
rounders. Depending on the team and where they might be drafting i would do it. But if it's a team that is guaranteed to be in the 20-30 slot both seasons i would think twice about it. Besides Kulemin is a great 2 way player with the possibility of becoming a 30/30 guy. He also has size, which Toronto is lacking i don't think they trade him for 2 first rounders who may not ever come to the level of Kulemin.

Same with Phaneuf. Ton of heart and the captain of our blue and white vessel. Great leader on and off the ice and really seemed to take control of this team after Kabby and Beauch were gone last season.
 
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