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Be honest: what would satisfy you this season? And, what’s your Maple Leaf Stanley Cup “window”?

I want to be clear right up front today.  I think every guy who has ever been the General Manager of the Maple Leafs has been determined to win a Cup.  They obviously haven’t been successful in the sense of bringing the Cup home, but whether we’re talking about Jim Gregory, Gerry McNamara, Cliff Fletcher, Pat Quinn or John Ferguson Jr., I am of the firm belief that each of those individuals did everything they could to bring a winner to Toronto.

Some, like Gregory, Fletcher and Quinn, brought us pretty darn close at times and built teams with qualities that we all enjoyed and often admired.  But living up the the legend of Punch Imlach (pictured at left in the early '60s), who orchestrated and pulled the strings on the team that won four Stanley Cups in the 1960s, has not been easy for his successors.

I wrote a piece here some time ago called “The Leafs haven’t always been lousy” in the last forty-some years.  And I will argue forever that that is true.  There have been many incarnations of this team that have been very good over the past 45 years.  Not good enough, I realize, but entertaining, talented, gritty, etc.  They all came up short but they gave us thrills.

And everyone who has helped build those teams was trying to win it all. So Brian Burke, bluster aside, is no different.  You might think he is better than some of the people who have been in charge of the franchise in the past, but he hasn’t proven that to me as yet.  He won a Cup in Anaheim, yes, building on a tremendous foundation that Bryan Murray had left for him.  And that’s great.  But his actual record of delivering in the playoffs beyond that is sketchy, at best, in his four stops (Hartford, Vancouver, Anaheim and of course, Toronto), covering 13 years, I think it is, as a GM.

That said, Burke has brought the Leafs back to some semblance of life.  He is now well into his fourth year on the job.  When he came, and for some time thereafter, he boldly stated that he had no patience for the classic “five-year re-build”.  Of course, that’s precisely what we are in the midst of.  And that’s fine for most of us, I sense, as long as he ultimately gets the job done.

But that’s my question for today:  what is “getting the job done” in modern-day terms for our Maple Leafs?

I guess what I am really interested in hearing from you is, what will constitute enough “success” to make you feel happy—or satisfied—as a Leaf fan?  I realize people are coming at this from their own perspective and through a very personal lens.  If you are 22 and have your “life ahead of you”, as it were, you may be happy if the Leafs simply contend for a Cup here and there over the next ten years.

If you’re at my end of the scale (pushing 60), you may be in a bit more of a hurry.

So here’s the thing…just with regard to this season for the moment, is making the playoffs good enough for you?  Do they have to make it and win a round, or just make it?

Is it enough that they get close to a playoff spot but play entertaining, energetic hockey through the rest of the season?

Longer-term, is it Stanley Cup or bust?  In other words, do they have to win a Cup in Burke’s tenure for his era to have been successful?  Or will it be sufficient that he brought the team back from the brink of irrelevance?

Perhaps finally, if you feel a Cup is a must, when does that have to happen—in two years, five years?

Is getting to the finals down the road sufficient to make being a Leaf fan (in addition to the already-present inherent joy that it provides) what you want it to be?

I just thought that, with the break in the schedule and the team playing “OK” heading into the break, most Leaf followers should be in that mental “place” where they are neither feeling grim or too “heady” about the team's prospects.  I think most of us see the progress, but also acknowledge the often-present (and usually hard to miss) gaps in their game.

Using the above questions as a bit of a guide, let me know where you’re at.


  1. For this year, we need to make the playoffs to show progress. We can judge the degree of improvement by their performance under these conditions. It is NOT good enough to get close. We already showed that we can do that.
    Longer term, the team needs to be an obvious contender for the Cup each year. If this is achieved, then Burke's tenure as the GM can be considered a success.
    It is unrealistic to expect to win it each year, but it would sure be nice to finally feel we have a legitimate chance!
    And as a member of the "limited number of years left" crowd, a Cup win PDQ would be much appreciated!

  2. I like the title of the piece you referenced, “The Leafs haven’t always been lousy” in the last 40 years--and they haven’t. I’m in my early 40s, following hockey since ’86, a Leaf fan all those years, many good ones.

    Since arriving in Canada in ’86 (the Flames/Habs were in the final and relatives helped explain the game), I’ve observed and learned the game of hockey, and come to understand and appreciate the Leafs’ rich history (abundantly enhanced of late by reading VLM).

    The last 25 years have been the proverbial roller coaster for fans. Any rational person (especially hockey people, which I’m not, but I gather you and your fine readers might be, although I like to consider myself an astute observer) knows it’s difficult to build a contender in the modern NHL. I don’t believe we’ll see a repeat winner for some years to come (please prove me right, Bruins!).

    Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed our 4 trips to the final four in the last couple of decades. I believe they were back-to-back years under Burns and later with Quinn. The excitement was palpable in the city and beyond. For me, that kind of a run will spell success--a run deep into the playoffs. The real thrill will be the excitement of getting behind the boys as they give it all they have to make it to the dance, something we haven’t had in a while. I can only imagine how such a run might play out in the social-media universe!

    As for whether nothing shy of a Cup in the Burke era constitutes success, that’s been the notion of some media, but I think even Burke would say that’s true, considering his persona. I think that’s a bit unfair and even unreasonable. Given the monumental task of competing in this era of parity, for me, getting to the dance will be icing, winning, the cherry. At this point, I’d just love cake!

    Very thought-provoking post, Michael!


  3. They have to make the playoffs.

    They have lots of prospects (Blacker, Aulie Holzer, Frattin, etc.) and draft choices and if they need to they can trade to make sure they get into the playoffs. They have a month to decide and make the move.

    They can't be swept in the first round.

    They have to win some games in the first round and at least give another team a good scare... a 6 or 7 game series in the first round and I am satisfied.

    If they win a round I am very happy.

    If they win one round and scare somebody in the second round...well I ecstatic. I can't hope for anything more...and I don't dare.

    Stanley Cup? ....If they get to the third round in the next 4 years...I am happy.

  4. 43 yrs old here, and the Leafs last won the Cup the year before I was born. So, of course I hear the jokes (e.g. LEAFS - Losers Even After Forty Seasons.. or Fifty). So, where am I at this year?

    To feel the season is a success, I feel the Leafs need to make the playoffs and either win or be very competitive in the first round. Realistically, the team is not going to be in the top half of the draw and will be facing off against teams like the Bruins, Rangers, or Flyers - all of whom (at this point) look like they are built for a better run than we currently are.

  5. Some great comments guys...thanks.

    Ed, given our "status" as elders in the Leaf community, you and I share being in that "would rather not have to wait too long category"!

    Excellent comment, Caedmon. I really enjoy and appreciate the realistic perspective that you always provide.

    DP- Interesting. You want to see the playoffs, but have realistic expectations for the next few seasons, in terms of how far they will actually get...

    daBikers68- you were born, it sounds like, at precisely that point in our history when the page was turned from the last "Cup" era. I agree that they are likely looking at a match-up with an Eastern Conference team that is built for playoff success, so it will be a battle, for sure, if they get there....Thanks for joining in.....

  6. When we were making our predictions last Fall, I said they had to make the playoffs this year. I still feel that way. That's the lowest the bar goes for me. I'd be delighted if they took a round, but the way they're playing now makes that a virtual impossibility, granted that the first round is often the Round Of Upsets. Like DP above, I'd be unhappy if they were swept.
    Going forward, I expect progress every year. Deeper into the playoffs next year, and a viable Cup contender after that. Anything less will be extremely disappointing.

  7. Screw it, this is what I want:
    1. Make the playoffs and beat the Bruins in the first round in 7, on their ice, with a game-winning goal by Kessel in OT, the 3rd of his hat-trick.
    2. Sweep the Sens in the second round, who managed to get another playoff team to fall asleep on the ice in the first round.
    3. Lose the ECF in 7 to.....Pittsburgh.
    4. Win ECF next year in spectacular fashion and win the Cup the year after for 3 years straight.

  8. Gerund O'....I like that you are keeping the bar high. I wonder if sometimes we are swayed by positive talk and as a result, the bar is not in reality set high enough- even though we think, as fans, that we have a high bar. In the Quinn years, getting deep into the playoffs was the expectation. A first-round loss was a major disappointment....

    KidK....I guess you decided you'd go for it and not hold back!

  9. ::phew:: the whole range of perspectives and prognostications today! i'd like to think i'm a patient person... and cautious.
    if burke is able to rob another manager blind before the trade-deadline... excellent! if he has to give up a lot to land a rental-player, i don't think it's worth the leafs making the playoffs (and losing in the first round).
    the leafs will be a serious contender in another couple of seasons if players stay healthy/develop and management continues to make sound decisions.

  10. I'm with KidK on this one!
    Seriously though, playoffs this year would make me very happy. A playoff round win might send me into cardiac arrest!
    If they can shore up the goaltending, then being a cup contender, not just a playoff contender, is a real possibility in a year or two. If not, then they'll be a bubble team until they do.
    At 34, I've seen my share of ups and downs with this team since the late '80s, including two runs where they legit had a shot at winning the Cup. They will get one before my kids graduate high school in 15 years. They'd goddamwell better...

  11. I think it's critical that the Leafs make the playoffs this year. Why? Because they have little wiggle room in salary to build significantly going into next year. What makes this even more problematic is the recent play of Grabovski and Gustavsson.

    Going into next year they have 17/25 players signed, with just over 11 million left in salary cap space. Not a lot money to spend to fill out 8 roster spaces! The reason why I mention Grabovski and Gustavsson is because right now, they would command higher in the open market than what they get paid now. Grabbo more so than Gustavsson.

    Now, the big (and I mean really big) wild card in this is what happens with the next CBA. What adjustments will happen to the salary cap? Will GMs be able to bury our buy out contracts without penalty?

    If the new CBA is similar to what it is now, the Leafs need to make it happen this year because they won't be able to tinker much with their current line up. Now, who knows, Burke has been able to pull off some great deals, but he's also be absorbing a lot of cap space in the process. It's possible he'll be able to trade Komisarek because his salary will be lesser than his cap hit for the next two years which makes him somewhat attractive, but I have a feeling he's going to have to trade players we don't want to see go (i.e. Grabovski, Schenn).

  12. Alex C...I think you speak for quite a number of Leaf followers when you say you would rather they not give up a "lot" for a rental, only to perhaps exit the playoffs quickly.

    Sergei (Craig). Interesting that you raise the goaltending question. As much as people have suggested in recent seasons that "hey, you don't need a top-flight goalie to win", bottom-line is, you have to have someone in that position playing extraordinarily well to win a Cup. Thomas provided that a season ago, Fleury when the Pens won, Osgood, Ward, Nabakhov, Brodeur, Hasek, Giguere, Roy, Belfour (going back), etc. Leafs will need that too- from somebody... (And at least you didn't say grandkids!)

  13. Hogie you raise a very good point about the CBA and Leaf cap management. The way you have put it, it potentially creates a bit more urgency around the Leafs and our expectations...

  14. There are realists in Leafland. It's not a secret the Leafs, as an organization, are improved since Burke took over but this incarnation of the NHL club is not so much better than a number of other competing teams.

    That said, playoffs are a must this season. It does matter that Brian Burke is purportedly one of the best GMs in the league, and that Burke intimated he preferred accelerating his team's improvement by acquiring young, yet developed, pieces (ie Kessel, Phaneuf, etc). That's not to ignore he has brought in prospects and draft picks also, just that some of the big splashes have been about skipping past the 'draft-ohl-ahl-nhl three to five years' way of building.

    I do acknowledge it's not as easy as "I want that guy" and he ends up a Leaf. But, by April, Burke will be about 40 months on the job. At this point, both the Marlies and Leafs need to be in playoff series', or I think Burke's ability to build a team must be questioned seriously. It's not an automatic firing, but another near miss should be enough to question the direction things are going.

    Unfortunately,the strange dichotomy is I feel adamantly they need to be a playoff team. And i am pretty certain they will lose that playoff round 4-0, maybe 4-1. The way this team is build now, I don't think they'd have enough to beat a top seed in 7.

    I am not sure missing the playoffs means new GM, maybe new coach. I do think it's getting better. But, it's no good being non-playoff, non-lottery.

  15. Excellent post Mark, thanks. Really well articulated as always....