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A Jake Gardiner trade may well have to be part of any serious Maple Leaf upgrade

Opinions range on what the Leafs have to do to get to that often-elusive “next level”.  It looked as though they were on their way to one of those steps—a playoff berth—until they got caught in a twister they couldn’t extricate themselves from over the past couple of months.  Losses to Boston and the Islanders (at home Tuesday night) have only served to heighten the disappointment of a season suddenly gone astray.

So now, without a playoff berth since 2004 to feel warm and fuzzy about (and going on four years into Burke’s build/re-build/quick build or whatever it is this month) we can step back and say, with some degree of confidence, that this team needs something to a) just get to the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference b) become a serious contender in the Conference and ultimately c) win a Stanley Cup.

We’ve talked here in broad terms about things that are important, things like team toughness, grit, a better defensive approach, etc.  The Leafs have youth, speed and some skill on the positive side of the ledger—and a boat load of (in my estimation) fourth-line guys on the roster, as I’ve said here many times in the past.  

Some think they need a major upgrade in goal, and that may well be a fair assessment.  Outstanding goaltending can certainly help net a team more points than it might otherwise deserve (6, 10, 12 points, maybe?) over the course of a full NHL season.  Can Reimer be the answer some day, maybe even as early as next season?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Will he even be here come September?  I hope he is.  

Gustavsson, despite his apparent “improvement” at times this season, will likely be elsewhere in 2012-‘13.  As most of us have agreed here lately, it is difficult to anticipate the brass going with the same duo that helped produce un-satisfying results this season.  But if that is indeed the scenario that unfolds, who comes in here as a true “number-one” guy?  Careful, we’ve tried this before (you know the long list of names) and no one since Eddie Belfour—and Curtis Joseph before him— has worked out. And even Belfour got here very late in his career, and was not the same stud goalie that helped bring the Dallas Stars a Stanley Cup well over a decade ago.  (Hard to believe it’s already been that long, eh?)

So in addition to that goaltender, we need a top shutdown defenseman as well, you say?  Hmmm.  That’s not exactly easy to just pick up, either.  Most defensemen take years to develop.  (Even Chris Pronger and Scott Stevens, Hall-of-Fame defensemen both, got traded early in their careers…) Look at Tyler Myers.  He was an amazing rookie defenseman in Buffalo three seasons ago and I’d love to have him here.  He’s still very good, for sure, but the bloom has fallen off the rose a bit after that startlingly impressive first season with the Sabres, with his long reach of his- and those 48 points.  He may be a star for years to come and I’m sure Buffalo fans hope that will be the case. But he's not an elite shutdown defenseman.

So to draft and develop be that premier, shutdown guy?  Well, that rarely happens overnight.  We’ve seen that with young Schenn here in Toronto.  Only 22, four years already in the NHL, and some feel he should be traded this summer because he has not developed as quickly, or as well, as many had hoped.  But I’ll say it again:  think long and hard before you move a young defenseman.  They are not easy to replace, as we all know.

And yes, adding to the list of “needs” we might as well throw in a true "number-one" center.  (This sounds like a recording from the past several years, doesn’t it?)  I’m pretty sure they don’t exactly grow on trees, either.  Now, if we could add all of those things—an elite goalie, a first-pair defenseman and a big, point-producing centerman (or at least another high-end forward)—the Leafs would surely make the playoffs next spring, even if they did not change anything else on the roster.  But would they go very far in the playoffs?  Would they win a Cup?

I don't honestly know, but I don’t believe so, no- even with three, new, elite-level players.  (I’m sure everyone has their own opinions and you may feel differently.)

But let’s step back for a moment.  Just to obtain even one of those pieces—assuming we don’t wait for some yet un-drafted player to be chosen, developed and eventually become that elite goalie, shutdown “D” or top-line center—the Leafs will have to make major trades.  The free-agent market just doesn’t seem to be there this coming summer, and that path has not exactly guaranteed us success in recent years in any event.  And if it is determined that the Leafs need to make a splash—not just for the sake of it but in fact to obtain the near-final pieces of a much larger puzzle—well, to get those types of players, what, realistically, do the Leafs have to offer in return?

Again, if I was an NHL General Manager, and Burke wanted my best player (or one of them), draft picks sure wouldn’t be enough.  I would need to get a young guy on Toronto’s roster who I have seen play a lot at the NHL level, who I believe will be a star in the league for years to come.  The truth is the Leafs don’t have a lot of guys who fit that mold.  Kessel is an elite scorer, but the operative word at this point in his career is scorer.  He is not a proven all-around player with a high compete level against tough checking.  But he can sure score. Still, would Burke's centrepiece acquisition ever be moved?  (A Toronto Star article a week ago apparently floated that idea and there appeared to be a minor rebellion in Leafland at the very idea.  But is it really an absurd notion?  I’ll leave that debate for another day…)

So who do you trade to get something really good back—a Rick Nash (not a center but certainly a first-line forward, who would automatically make any team better), a star goaltender, or a big-time defenseman?

For me, there is only one piece that other teams would covet and in fact, if I was those GM’s, I would insist on, and that is Jake Gardiner.

Now before you say, Michael…you just said be wary of trading a young defenseman with potential:  Yes, I stand by that.  And I am not suggesting Burke should trade Gardiner.  What I am saying is that he does not have much to offer other teams that would bring back legitimate difference-making talent at the three slots I’ve cited above.  Lombardi, Steckel, McArthur, Kadri, Kulemin, Liles, Franson, Armstrong, Bozak, etc. won’t do it.  No way.  Why would other GM’s want the players who already are a big part of making our team a non-playoff squad yet again ?

We can say, but…the Leafs have all these great assets in the minors.  Well, they may assets, and they may be very good players someday, but who is going to give us a first-line goalie, defensemen or center and replace them with “potential”—or an even less certain “future” draft pick?

No, we’re back to my discussion of a few weeks ago when I wrote here:  If I’m Bobby Murray, the GM in Anaheim, and Brian Burke calls and tells me he wants Bobby Ryan or Ryan Getzlaf, my response is easy:  sure.  In return, I’ll start with Jake Gardiner, and move on to Kadri, Colborne or Schenn and a first-rounder.

My guess is that’s the conversation that Columbus had with the Leafs before the most recent trading deadline.  But when Columbus was insisting on Gardiner, it fell through.  I don’t blame Columbus.  And I don’t blame Burke.  But do we feel the same as we did at the deadline, when Burke and others felt the team did not need any major tweaks?  Maybe we do—but maybe not.  And if Burke doesn’t—and we don’t—then what does that mean?

It means that to get better more quickly, and not simply wait for all the kids to improve faster than we should be expecting (or waiting even longer for draft picks to mature) the Leafs will need to give up something to get something.

The Leafs can keep doing what they’re doing, and hope that Reimer rebounds next season, that the young defense improves dramatically under Carlyle, and that Colborne, Ashton, Kadri and others emerge as NHL-ready contributors and maybe even impact performers—and that no one gets hurt—in 2012-’13.

But even if those things do happen, if  every single one of those things goes right, we could still be life and death just to make the playoffs again next spring, even in the watered down Eastern Conference—if no major moves are made.  Do we really believe every other NHL team is just waiting to get worse?  No, they’re just as determined to get better as the Leafs are.  (Look at the Islanders.   They are not a good NHL team, but are they any worse off than the Leafs?  Do we have a Tavares on our team?)

Is “waiting for the kids to develop” good enough for you?  And if it is, fine, we should be patient and continue along this slow-moving but hopefully positive path.  (And let’s not kid ourselves—it is slow moving—Florida and Ottawa have, for now, leapfrogged the Leafs, in less time, in their re-builds…)

But if not, the Leafs will need to move some of that young potential (and maybe lots of it) for big-time instant help—something they did not want to do just a few weeks ago at the deadline.

There is no urgency right now.  There is a season to play out.  There is plenty of time before the draft and summertime “trading season”, but, here's the question: would you trade Gardiner—and/or others—to acquire some of what the Leafs look like they need to make the jump to that next level, and maybe even skip one level (the just getting to the playoffs level) and improve right to the point where they are real contenders in the East?

Or does Burke hold course and keep building as he has, with what he has?

Let me now your thoughts….

51 comments:

  1. I would not trade Gardiner yet. I keep thinking he might turn out to be the next Scott Niedermayer.

    Can you imagine the regret if Ottawa had traded Karlsson last year before they knew what they really had?


    Lombardi, Armstrong, Liles, Franson...I could trade them.

    I could trade Schenn, Kadri, Brown, even Colborne.

    Teams like Edmonton could use some defence. Maybe that's how we move up in the draft? Our first and Franson for Edmonton's first.

    Surely some combination of multiple players going out and fewer players coming back will give us a few quality players that we need.

    There are lots of extra players in the Leafs organization...start boxing them up and making deals.

    Burke do your job. Call other GMs:

    "I have Kadri, Liles and Lombardi...and I only need one or two players coming back. What would you give me?"



    But lets keep at Gardiner a little longer at least until we know what we really have.

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  2. Thanks DP. I've said the same thing here about Gardiner, as have others, that he has Niedermayer-like qualities, for sure. And no, I wouldn't trade him, either.

    But, if the Leafs do want to make major moves, they need to give quality, not just quantity. If I was a rival GM, I would not consider just taking Toronto's third and fourth-liners for a star. Not a chance. The players you mention, even the ones with potential like Schenn, Kadri and Colborne, are not stars and may never be.

    Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think those types of players bring back an elite goalie, a top-end defenseman or a superstar centre.

    Always love chatting with you, DP. Thanks.

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  3. I guess my goals are a little more humble...Kadri and Liles for Umberger? Is that too much or too little?

    I know we are way down in the standings, but I am thinking Umberger and maybe Gaustad via free agency if he doesn't sign in Nashville.

    I think just a couple of big competitive guys in and a few small guys out would do wonders for the Leafs.

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  4. I think you're right DP...Size and skill will help,

    My thought in this post was indeed to discuss what the Leafs would need to consider trading for "bigger fish"- a top goalie, centre, or defenseman. But other moves, such as the ones you suggest, could well be on the table, too.

    Thanks DP.

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  5. I agree with both you and DP - I'd rather not trade Gardiner... yet. He's looking an awful lot like a raw rookie these days, so I'd like to see how he handles the first part of next year, at least. If he keeps getting pushed off the puck like he is now, maybe he becomes available.
    I won't debate what kind of players we need - I think we're all pretty much on the same page. So, for the right deal, I'd trade Phaneuf in a heartbeat. In fact any D-man. Any forward except Kessel and Lupul. (That scoring combo is too important, and if we could find a big, and preferably mean, center, it would be the final part for that line). Anyone on the Marlies' roster. The trick, of course, is that some other team has to feel they can benefit from what we're offering, and the cupboard is pretty bare.
    Unfortunately, elite players alone aren't going to do it for us. We need some leadership, some character players who can inspire the others. It's clear we don't have that at the moment. There's not one Leaf on the ice who can push the others. Without two or three players like that, we won't go far no matter who we trade for.

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  6. The problem the Leafs have now is that panic has set in. If Burke, as he says wasn't a coward he wouldn't have gone to Carlye he would have hired Eakins. Now he has a coach who won't play offense at all, I mean 27 shots in 2 games and you by a combined score of 13-2 seriously. Sorry had to throw that rant in.

    Now that the panic is here, other teams know they have the Leafs where they want them. Why wouldn't they ask for Gardiner? I mean if I am an opposing GM, I know Burke is desperate with the total melt down this year. Anything short of playoffs next year means Burke is gone as well so the only thing I'm throwing Burke is a boat anchor.

    The only thing I hope is now that we are probably going to get a lottery pick with a good chance of it being in the top 3, Burke does the right thing for the Maple Leafs which isn't the same thing as what is right for him. He can't trade Gardiner or Schenn and he can't trade the high draft pick. This team is now looking at a complete rebuild and Burks can't screw it up like he did 4 years ago. Burke has to understand that he is in all likely hood down to his last year, don't leave scorched earth behind when you go. I'm fairly certain that the Leafs aren't going to be much better next year so it is critical for Burke to do the right thing and leave a foundation behind him when he goes.

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  7. I guess I should have better explained my move for the elite center.

    Edmonton has expressed a willingness to trade their first round choice. I would be willing to move the Leafs choice which might be 5th or 6th for plus players/draft choices to get the number 2 pick big center Mikhail Grigorenko 6'3"

    If we can't do that then I hope can draft centre Alex Galchenyuk with our own pick. He might be a sleeper pick because of the injury.

    I think our best chance to get an elite center...is to draft one.

    Keep losing ( we exceeded expectations in that area in the last two games.)

    The pick might be ready this year or next and until then its Conolly or Bozak on the first line.

    In the meantime, upgrades on the lower lines might be more realistic.

    The goalie...I just don't know. If they don't sign Gustavvson perhaps its someone from a decent crop of UFA'...Nabokov? Chris Mason is veteran UFA and has played well, so has Biron and Josh Harding. Volkoun is also a UFA.

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  8. Trading Schenn now would be an idiotic move.

    I don't see any scenario in which Schenn is not at least a solid top 3 defenceman for ten years in the NHL. And I suspect that his ceiling is significantly higher. Like you said Michael, Schenn's trajectory is not an unfamiliar one. For every d-man who comes to the NHL and settles in consistently, there are 15 who develop in fits and starts, often at an excruciatingly slow pace.

    Sad to say, there are only about 5 pieces I would have significant interest in as a rival GM, and 3 of those pieces I would likely avoid because they're probably overvalued right now or just signed a lux new deal (Kessel/Lupul/Grabo).

    That leaves our two young d-men and it's really a no win situation for the Leafs. Its either deal one (or both) plus picks for a front line scorer or top notch goalie and gut your franchise of its only real A grade young players. Or, barring a miracle Parise signing, stand relatively pat with the sad group you've got now.

    I know this sounds incredibly depressing right now, but I would go for a full rebuild. Burke won't do it--he doesn't have nearly enough rope--but considering our meager assets, its the best move going forward.

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  9. Feels like it's going to be a frustrating off-season. No rosy-eyed trading dead weight for draft picks and dreaming of years to come; no signing big-name free agents to build on whatever foundation we have; just changes and crossed fingers. Or nothing and crossed fingers.

    I wouldn't trade Gardiner. I'd avoid trading Schenn, Colborne, Kadri (grudgingly), Blacker and all the other early twenty-somethings. I'd keep many members of the current squad so we don't have to rush anyone into the league too soon, and I'd start building slowly over the next couple of years. And wish we'd had the foresight to do so a couple of years ago.

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  10. Well said as usual, Gerund O'. And you know I agree, we need more elite players, yes, but we need grit and leadership, too.

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  11. Willbur...you point out the challenge facing Burke right now. He can't (and I don;t think he will) "panic" and start moving key future pieces, but if he doesn't, will the team get better by, say, next season?

    It sounds like you're saying he has to "stay the course", use that pick this summer, keep the good kids and keep building- even if they don't make the playoffs next spring.

    I don't think the new ownership will fire him, regardless. So I think he has the security to, as you put it, "do the right thing"....

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  12. DP...I don't know enough about the Russian kids to comment. But I'll trust what you're saying, that they could have an impact fairly early on. Again, as I just discussed with Willbur, that requires continues patience, as we wait for all these youngsters on the roster, the guys with the Marlies and future draft choices to become top NHL players.

    Thanks DP.

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  13. It's getting to a point where there's nothing left to say anymore. All of us armchair GMs (however passionate) and true fans just can't seem to resonate with Burke. Reading your reaction, your readers, and some of the stuff today "out there," seems like nothing is likely to change the culture of MLSE. I'm beginning to think more and more the one and only thing that could change this is another team in the GTA/Southern Ont. But of course, MLSE has control over that as well!

    Cheers.

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  14. Great post Craig. There are two frustrating elements, I sense, for many Leaf fans. One is that Burke now (apparently) has the coach he wanted all along, with a shared "rough play" philosophy. But he built a team for speed and skill, which was evidently more what Wilson liked. So we need to have current players adjust a ton, or Carlyle adjust a ton.

    Similarly, we are now discussing (in fairness, we as fans are, not management) a total re-build or, instead, waiting for the current youngsters to slowly improve, as many surely will (Schenn, as you mention, could indeed be an example...). But since Burke has long said he had no patience for that "five year re-build"", would it not have been better to recognize that was exactly what was needed and say that loud and clear three and a half years ago? Maybe fans would be more understanding now.

    Thanks Craig.

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  15. On the money, Peregrine. Well said. Thanks. As I just said to Craig, if this had been expressed as "the plan" originally, people would likely be way more tolerant now.

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  16. I’d like to take a different tack from most of the conversation today.

    Instead of trying to figure out what “silver-bullet” top talent we’ll sell Gardiner et al for – why not sit back (without panic) and assess where the “team” component of this organization has gone wrong?

    Chemistry is the missing ingredient right now; the players keep repeating their mistakes, their combined toughness is atrocious and just don’t want to back each other up when other teams push hard. For whatever reason they have given up on each other – find out why and our top talent can stay intact.

    I think a real assessment of what’s going on in the locker room should be the main stay right now. This has to be incredibly tough for the boys and the ones who try and work together are the keepers. If they can push to the end of the season, I can guarantee they will not want to experience this again and will be a better team.

    Bring in some size/scoring when appropriate, but in the meantime find the core group – the Messier, Curry, Coffey combinations that have worked so well for other teams.

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  17. maybe i'm on my own here, but a super-star player like rick nash has only played for columbus, and they've made the playoffs... once i believe (eliminated in 4 games). what makes leafs-fans and others think 'hey if WE get nash, he's going to turn OUR team around,' meanwhile our goaltending/defense still lets in goal after goal? this is especially pertinent if we're trading-away talented defensemen (gardiner) in the process!

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  18. Interesting point on Carlyle being the coach that Burke wanted all along and that Burke built up the team the way Wilson liked, and now that team is trying to play Carlyle-style hockey that it isn't suited for. The team just isn't really built to win those kinds of battles. Ironically, the Leafs outhit the Bruins, but when the score is 0-8, does that really matter?

    Still, one comment pointed out that Burke was a coward for hiring Carlyle over Eakins, but to be honest I'm not sure I follow that. I absolutely love what Dallas Eakins has done with the supremely upgraded Marlies roster this season, but what has Eakins actually accomplished? He hasn't coached a single AHL playoff game. In his first year behind the bench, he went 33-35-6, and then went 35-31-1 in his second season. This is really his first successful year, posting a 36-22-4 record so far and having the Marlies sitting first in the north and second in the western conference. But otherwise, he hasn't done anything to warrant an NHL coaching position. I think he is a good coach, and will be in the NHL before long, but taking him away from the Marlies in the middle of a season where they are poised to make a deep Calder Cup run would have been detrimental to both levels of the Maple Leafs organization.

    It's too early to say if the Carlyle signing was right or wrong for this team. That Steckel was the leader in ice time among forwards and that Carlyle matched Steckel/Crabb/Connolly up against the Tavares line even though they were repeatedly dominated by them is a little disconcerting to be sure, but maybe that was more a message to the top lines that their lack of production was unacceptable.

    Anyway, with regards to what Burke needs to do, I just really don't know anymore. I used to think that this team was just a few pieces away from being competitive (not contenders), now I'm not even sure of that. I don't see any trade scenario where Gardiner being shipped out brings more value to the team than keeping him does. That is my concern. Yes, the team needs a difference maker, but the team also simply cannot afford to take back lesser value in trades right now. To me, Kessel, Gardiner and Grabovski, and our first round pick (looking more and more like it could wind up in the top 3-5), are the only absolutely unmoveable pieces. I'd probably put Gunnarsson in that list as well.

    I'm just not seeing how a Gardiner trade adds enough to compensate for what losing him subtracts, that it takes us to the next level. Does anyone really think a Gardiner + kadri/colborne + random salary + 1st rnd pick for nash makes us a better team? I can't see it. What about for carter? richards? Ryan? I just don't think so.

    Frustration and disappointment are boiling over and people want to see anything happen just for the sake of seeing something happen I think. I'd rather Burke hold onto assets and just try his best to continue to shed dead weight in order to build further and make cash available for big free agency years ahead.

    Komisarek, Liles, Lombardi, Connolly, Armstrong (and I wouldn't be overly sad to add Phaneuf to this list), all need to be gone as soon as possible and Burke needs to find a way to acquire what talent he can without surrendering assets this offseason.

    Guys like Parise, Carle, Suter, Hudler, maybe Hal Gill on the cheap, Harding, and maybe others should be chased hard. Justin Schultz as well.

    One last thing about Carlyle, I think if Eakins stays with the organization next season, and is able to bring the Marlies to the playoffs and deep again, I wouldn't be surprised to see Carlyle replaced if significant (i.e., 2nd rnd playoffs or better) improvements are not seen on the big club. The 3-yr contract is misleading, and rarely fulfilled for coaches that don't perform. It's simply an industry-standard that coaches won't sign for without

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  19. I think Burke has alredy panicked Michael. I just don't see it getting better between now and this time next year. This is going to be one long offseason.

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  20. Caedmon...I appreciate your comment, as always.

    As I've said here before, I don't doubt for a moment that every GM who has been in place since 1967, from Jim Gregory to the present, has done their best and worked hard to make this team a winner. (Same with each and every Leaf coach.) Some have come closer than others.

    Burke is in the midst of his work here. He deserves more time, in my view. A lot of the "criticism"/commentary I make with regard to Burke has, in part, to do with the lofty "principles" he espoused and the high expectations he set. That he too often speaks from what I see as an ego-driven place is a shame and hurts his credibility.

    Had he done a better job of surveying what he had in the fall of 2008, I don't think we would be where we are know. Or, fans would be satisfied, knowing that it was in fact the way Burke envisioned things would go.

    The truth is he has conducted a "five-year re-build" and that's fine. It would simply have been better if he had stated such at the outset, or soon thereafter.

    Thanks Caedmon. You're a valued contributor here.

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  21. Just a comment on your response to Craig there, Michael.

    When Burke arrived he said he was going to build a team with size, speed, skill, and a healthy dose of nastiness. Clearly he had all of those elements in Anaheim. Funny thing is, Ryan/Perry/Getzlaf are still in Anaheim and probably will be for their entire careers. Players with that skillset are rare, and rarer still do they get moved. So Burke has had to settle for players who have their share of flaws. He's got the scoring and the speed up front, but no grit. There's size and (decent) footspeed on the back end, but again no grit and zero shutdown ability.

    I really believe Burke was convinced that he was going to bring the Sedins to Toronto in the summer of 2009 - what could be better? He'd just acquired Kessel, now he was about to open the UFA bank vault for the two superstars he worked so hard to draft way back when. Surely Burke's many years of loyalty to the Sedins would be repaid in full.

    Of course, not unexpectedly, the twins made the smart career move of re-signing with a much better team for what can fairly be described as a discount at 5 years/$30.5m each. And he's been scrambling ever since, desperately sifting coal and taking on reclamation projects.

    His biggest mistake from the beginning was proclaiming this would be a speedy retooling - if there's one thing Leaf fans hate, it's feeling like they've been duped. And I don't think there's virtually anything Burke can do now to fully regain that broken trust.

    Sorry that didn't have anything to do with your original question. I think all the other commenters have pretty much covered all bases.

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  22. I think your perspective is an entirely reasonable one, Alex C.

    I'd like to think Nash's "issue" has been that he has not played with a particularly good team in Columbus lo these many years. (He has done well playing for Canada at various important competitions, as I recall...) But you may be right that he would not be an "answer" here, especially if other issues continue to crop up.

    Like most of us, it's clear you do not want to see Gardiner traded!

    Thanks Alex.

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  23. Darryl- great post. I can see both sides of the Eakins "debate"- why he should have been hired and why it was best to let him stay with the Marlies.

    As I've said here many times, my biggest shock is that Burke kept a coach he disagreed with on a fundamental premise: how "rough" the team should be. That's a "wow" for me.

    I agree that it's far too early to determine anything about Carlyle. He had success in Anaheim, indisputably. He had a lot to work with, too.

    Right now, some nights it looks as though this is a team that was built for a different coach and a different system- which it was.

    I agree with your point, and those that others have made today, that trading the really good young pieces we have is not the answer.

    I was just posing the question to see how people felt.

    Thanks for another really good post, Darryl.

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  24. Mills...you've hit the nail right on the head. Fans want the straight goods, full stop. Thanks.

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  25. My point oh hiring Eakins over Carlyse is that Carlyle was the safe choice, the non contoversial choice. However, it is clear the he is not the right choice for this group of players. Niot saying he is a bad coach, just not the right one at this time, kinda like the Kessel trade, good player, bad timing.

    Now the Leafs are left with tryuing to overhaul the team yet again in the offseason to get payers who can play Carlyel's style. In my humble opinion they could have brough Eakins up becuase he is familiar with the players and the style of hockey they were playing under Wilson. They could have wiated until summer and then assesed the whole situation top to bottom. there was no need to jump the gun. That is why I think Burke has panicked. That is why I very worried he is going to burn this thingh to the ground to try and prove to everybody how smart he is. The team in year 4 of a not a 5 year rebuld is rudderless and has no clear direction forward. I am very worried that this is just the start of 2-3 years of realy bad hockey teams. Like I said earlier, we are at the start of a 5 year rebuild. Some good parts, no outstanding parts, and a whol;e lotta questions.

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  26. Willbur...I hear exactly what you are saying- about Eakins and the larger (but related) issue of where the team is right now. You've outlined it well. Thanks as always.

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  27. I think this discussion is a good one but I think we need to examine the premise that the acquisition of 1 or 2 big name players is going to be the solution to our problems. I don't think the acquisition of Nash for example will instantly solve our problems. Columbus has achieved nothing with him in the lineup. Do we really think the team we have left after trading any of our current good assets to get him will be a solid contender? That has been discussed in this forum before and I believe the conclusion was that the cost would be too much to make a Nash/Ryan/Getzlaff type acquisition
    Also Phoenix, Florida, Ottawa and St.Louis to name a few have certainly done well without rushing out and making big name acquisitions as the solution to their problems. How did they improve their teams?
    I think this shows the objective of a competitive team can be achieved in other ways such as drafting well, good free agent signings (not necessarily "big names") and developing the talent a team has with a solid coaching staff (and perhaps without the daily pressure of the fanbase/media such as happens in T.O. - but that is not going to go away!).
    Of course, a good trade is always a help and as pointed out in this and other posts on your blog we have several weaknesses and capabilities to either be developed or acquired. If the qualities/talents we want are not likely available in our organisation, then I think the best way to acquire them is through the draft or a trade - but not for a big name player for which we have to lose the only good assets we have. I suggest Burke needs to look for players on other teams that don't get the big press but can get the job done. Ones that could be acquired for players we don't need but who could make a positive contribution elsewhere in the right situation.
    I believe this is going to be a slow process regardless of how much we might wish otherwise. We need to remain patient and not trade the likes of Gardiner and Schenn or Kessel & Grabowski.
    In my view, we are not in the position where the acquisition of one big name player can be acquired for surplus good assets and make us instantly a contender. Realistically, as pointed out by many contributors to this site, we have no surplus of good assets to offer so we cannot expect to go this route.
    So to conclude this lengthy comment (sorry about that), I think the premise that a trade for 1 or 2 big name players this summer is going to solve our problems is fatally flawed - unless Burke can steal them for the players we don't want. Good luck with that!

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  28. First of all, no way do I trade Gardiner. The guy has too much potential. Burke has made a mess of things and the only solution that I see is to let the kids develop and plug the holes with character guys to help them along.

    In fairness to Burke, if things had worked out we would now have Kessel and the Sedins playing here and the landscape might have looked different. He got blindsided by other teams signing their pending free agents to long term contracts and drying up the free agent pool.

    I don't see any options here. I say go for the best draft choice possible, hang on to your kids and build the team. Trading valuable pieces is something you do if you are a player or two away. We are starting with nothing.

    I do not trust this management group any more. When Carlyle was hired I figured it would be interim while they conducted an in depth search for the right coach. Turns out that the in depth search took a whole day. Something very wrong there.

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  29. I think Gardiner is a non-starter.

    Of course we all hear different things, but from what I read, CBJ was looking for 2 top prospects, 2 roster players and a first round pick for Nash... simply too much, at least for the Leafs to pay.

    You may be correct Michael, that any smart GM would be asking for Gardiner, and that's fine. But it's counter-productive really... Bobby Ryan is not the answer alone.

    It's a tangent, but the fact is, Burke's rebuild has missed the mark in many areas. He has said many things. I get grief from those who say "he never said X" or "the media makes everything think Y". I think we all acknowledge that he came in talking about culture change, he made a bold, unconventional move acquiring Kessel for draft picks, passed it off as getting better quicker, made statements about college free agents, and in the end, this team is not much further ahead than it was when JFJ was fired.

    Some will argue, but Stalberg, Gunnarsson, Reimer, Frattin, Kulemin, Tlusty... those are JFJ draft choices, but everyone talks about how there was nothing here, and Burke has this stockpile of awesome prospects now. Fact is, Burke's prospects may pan out, may not, may be middle-range NHL talent... that's true of most organizations.
    Back to where Burke has missed, in my opinion (hindsight and all)...

    1. This year he did not have truly solid goaltending. I have never been a Gus fan, I don't think he is NHL material (athletic, but I think he lacks the mental strength). HE should have gone with Reimer and a Ty Conklin/JSGiguere type... someone to mentor him.

    2. He's overrated most of the veteran core of his defence. He banked on Phaneuf and Komisarek. Phaneuf looked good early this season but fell off badly. He's done this with defencemen since he's been in Toronto... Exelby, Lebda, Beauchemin. As a result, the defence is just bad.

    3. He's also made errors with bottom-6 forwards. Dupuis, Sjostrom, Wallin, Primeau. And now he's got this high-priced, not really gritty, speedy but not offensively gifted threesome in Connolly, Armstrong and Lombardi. I don't think anyone really knows what the role is for that trio. They are not tough checkers, they aren't a surprise offensive line, and not great defensively.

    All in all, I think the fans actually were ready for a top-to-bottom rebuild back in 2008. But that was then...

    Going forward, I think Burke gets another year to sort some things out. I think with this 15 games, and a training camp, Carlyle figures out the offense-defense balance and so do the players. With Kessel, Lupul, Grabbo and CMac, there's offense here. We do need to remember Schenn is 22, and Carlyle will be only his second NHL coach... he needs time to adjust, he may not be a bust just yet. I am hopeful the coach can impart a system that will help all the defensemen make better decisions. And frankly, we may simply need to accept that Dion is just not as good as everyone thought he could be. And maybe they will give a legit shot to Kadri, Frattin, Colborne and a couple others to play and learn and mature as a team.

    Bottom line though, Burke needs to make better personnel decisions. It would be nice if he could find takers for some of the driftwood, but it may not be realistic. They held a playoff spot for about 50 games, it may not be that far away.

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  30. Great contribution to the discussion today, Ed.

    Something you said stood out for me- finding players who can come here and make a difference, and they don't have to be big name players, necessarily. Gary Roberts, for example, wasn't a "star" as such when he came here, but he sure made a difference.

    We need toughness, yes. But even a couple of guys with an edge can make other guys play a lot "tougher", eh? And feel way better on the ice, too.

    We also need leadership. That's what I'd be looking for this summer. Guys who can make the this young roster even better through their example on and off the ice.

    Coaching is part of it, and goes hand in hand with the other things you cite.

    Thanks Ed. Great post.

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  31. cbh747- I nodded throughout your post. Well said. Thanks.

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  32. That's an excellent and very detailed post Mark. Thank you.

    I really like your pint about JFJ. It's convenient to keep telling the story that there was "nothing" here when Burke came, and of course, that's just not so. Tlusty is an example of a Ferguson draft pick who is now paying dividend in Carolina. Burke gave him away for precious little. Stalberg, as you cite, is another piece that is now contributing to a very good team in Chicago.

    Without going over all of your well-made points in detail, I think most will agree that, as you allude to, the hope now is that Carlyle will work effectively with the young defensemen like Schenn and Gardiner, and that some/all of the young forwards you mention will be here and play well next season.

    Add some character guys who could (hopefully) be acquired in the off-season, and this can be a team that produces something next season. But we'll see.

    Thanks Mark.

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  33. No way I trade Gardiner. Look. He's #9 in rookie scoring, as a defenceman. He's #1 amongst rookie defencemen, and his stats are comparable to the #1 from other years. Plus.... he's cheap..... he learns.... and he's only just now learning to play defence. Remember, he was a forward.

    No sense getting an older, "elite" guy when the cost is that high.

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  34. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 21, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    OK, I'm going to play the devil's advocate here. I honestly can see why not you wouldn't consider Jake Gardiner in a trade, especially when you do not know if you're getting a Scott Niedermayer or a Bret Hedican. And when you consider the Sam Pollock's playbook in rebuilding a winning team: you have to look at the roaster and system and ask yourself is their a true franchise player here. What I have witness so far the answer is a resounding "NO"!! Since the Leafs have no franchise player, and by what all pundits are saying about this years draft-not one there either-can we truly say that there is an untouchable player? If the right deal is offer-and I mean the right deal (not another 1st round draft picks or a solid prospect like Randy Carlyle, for a past his prime veteran or hope and a prayer young player..aka Kessel)-then you differently have to pull the trigger regardless who and what your trading partner is asking.

    Thanks Mike, for given me the opportunity to voice my opinion.

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  35. Thanks quinn esq

    Hopefully everyone realizes that, in my post, I was not saying the Leafs should trade Gardiner. I was simply putting it out there to see how others felt. And further, I was re-iterating my earlier position that, if I was a rival NHL General Manager and (in an effort to acquire an elite goalie, a top defenseman or a first-line centre/forward) Burke approached me, I would insist on Gardiner, as a start, in return.

    Thanks.

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  36. You're views are always welcome here, Long Suffering.

    This is why I ask the questions I do in this forum. We all have different views, and it does not mean that some are right and others are therefore 'wrong".

    I love Gardiner, as most do (though, as I've said here before, we have not seen him in a tough playoff setting where time and space are hard to find), but I also hear what you are saying, Long Suffering. Brett Hedican is a great reference point. Superb skater. Really nice offensive player. In the end, not a superb NHL defenseman.

    The majority of people here today seem to want Burke to stay the course and wait for the youngsters to emerge.

    I thought I might hear more people saying, yes, we need to make deals to get that high-end goalie, defenseman or centre. Sounds like people are prepared to wait.

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  37. I'd like to spare a thought for Brian Burke here. We seem to be getting ready to roast him for doing what's best for him rather than the Leafs by trading away the young talent we'd love to think we can keep, when in the mean time he's getting roasted for not doing enough, i.e. not trading away the young talent we'd love to keep. Not pointing fingers at anyone posting here specifically but rather summarising a general feel around the blogs.

    In my own mind, before they do anything along the lines of big acquisitions or whole-scale roster changes, surely they want clarity over one question: what changed in February?

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  38. Hey Kiwi Leaf...it's absolutely fair to credit Burke for the good things he has done. I have always tried to do that here, while at the same time not closing my eyes to the things that I do not like- or the ego-driven public comments which, for me, have gotten in the way of good stewardship at times.

    My sense is most people want him to stay the course with the young talent he has helped to assemble, but they are, rightly, frustrated that he went for a short-term "fix" when he could simply have better recognized - and admitted - the job that was in front of him some three plus years ago was in fact a long-term re-build.

    I cannot answer your very good question about what"changed" in February...I will say this: one thing that changed is that other teams started to play the kind of hockey needed to win at this time of year (and in the playoffs). It's possible, though I can't say I'm convinced this is the case, that the Leafs just weren't that good- at least not at this stage in their development. All the nice things we noticed- the speed and the creative puck-movement - were harder to make work when the checking got tighter.

    Maybe that wasn't it- who knows? But the team was always fragile, I believe, in terms of deep-rooted confidence. Once things started to go south, they did not have the tools to right the ship, for whatever reasons.

    Thanks Kiwi Leaf. I appreciate your perspective.

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  39. In response to the general topic discussed above by Kiwi leaf and Michael, I'd like to also say that Brian Burke has made some nice deals, not the least of which were the Lupul, Phaneuf and Gardiner acquisitions. But since the too-long reign of JP Riccardi ended in Toronto, I've resisted the idea of cherry-picking individual deals to assess a GM's job performance.

    JP also made some shrewd moves as Jays GM, but ultimately, the team did not perform well enough to reach the playoffs (although the Jays were certainly better during JP reign, than the Burke-led Leafs have been). Meanwhile, after 8 years of JP, the Jays were essentially back where they started. I don't want to wait out 8 years of Brian Burke.

    I'm disturbed with Burke's management to date, because there has been no clear plan, no coherent philosophy, just a mish mash of deals, some which make sense (Phaneuf), some of which might make sense depending upon your perspective (Kessel), and some of which are criminally insane (Liles contract).

    To sum up, I'm judging BB on the big picture and not the sum of the parts, and I happen to think 5 years is sufficient time for a GM to show significant progress. If the Leafs remain out of the playoffs next year, there's no question BB should be shown the door.

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  40. Clear and well-stated Craig- thanks.

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  41. I am wondering if this team doesn't need a Grizzled Veteran who has won in order to guide these youngsters. Phaneuf may be a Vet but hasn't won a thing. Part of the reason I think the Canucks collapsed so badly last year is they didn't have a Mark Messier type, a hall of famer repeat Champ to finally lead the way to the Cup as he did in New York(interesting they still don't have that this year)
    Obviously Toronto is far away from that but look at Ottawa and Florida's resurgence, in Florida's case due to Veteran performance and in Ottawa, a healthy Alfredsson makes all the difference. Is there a 30something player around the league you would add to lead this young group?

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  42. Thanks Sean. Someone like a Knuble two or three years ago, for me, would be an ideal type of guy to add to the mix. A third-line guy with grit, tons of playoff experience, just a solid veteran presence. I'm sure posters here could come up with a nice list of names. How many would be available, I don't know.

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  43. I think Burkes biggest mistake was his reliance on signing free agents. He made the Kessel trade because he thought he could fill the line up around him with UFAs. It didn't work because teams started signing the potential UFAs to long term deals before they became UFAs. He doesn't seem to have a plan B. Trading Gardiner is probably the worse thing he could do as it will be 3 to 4 years before this team is competitive in the playoffs. He is going to have to build through the draft and add pieces with UFAs similar to what the Rangers have done. I once heard a distinguished educator say that the human animal is the only animal in the world who can tell a lie and then convince himself that the lie is the truth. Mr. Burke is very good with the "blarney" and unfortunetly seems to have convinced himself that all the great things he says about himself are true.

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  44. Some happy thoughts today:

    Brad Ross has been a solid player for the Portland Winterhawks this year with 42 goals, 40 assists and 163 penalty minutes.

    Think of Steve Ott..

    Perhaps in preparation for time with the Marlies or even the Leafs if Portland gets eliminated, Ross signed his entry level deal with the Leafs today.

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  45. Thanks mrj.

    It's interesting to see what the Rangers have accomplished, though we don't know yet if they will have championship level success. It's fascinating for me because I followed them pretty closely through all these Sather years and frankly, until recently, he has been, in my view, an awful GM there. Bad drafts, bad free-agent signings. Tons of money spent for years and years (pre-lockout) and not even playoff appearances, much less success in the playoffs. Just a mess. He really should have been fired long ago.

    But now, he has seemingly done better via the draft, the team has developed their young talent and added some pieces like Gaborik and now Richards and other role guys- and of course Tortorella is a demanding coach who usually gets results.

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  46. I doubt the Rangers will win the east as I think the team to beat will be the Penguins IF Crosby stays healthy. I think the Leafs best chance for success down the road is through the draft. It is the only way you can control salary in the cap era.

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  47. Long suffering Leafs fanMarch 21, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    I truly can see the benefits of playing it safe by steadying the course. However, without wearing rose colored glasses, I cannot help but look at the bigger picture here, and that is do the Leafs have a "franchise" player who they can build around? Say, someone in the mode of Darryl Sittler or Mat Sundin who was a leader and soul of the team. As I stated before, judging by what I see and read from what other more qualified hockey minds say, there isn't one. True, Mr. Burke has added a nice collection of young talent, but if he is really serious about building a championship team then he needs to make like Fletcher and pull the trigger on a player who can lead this franchise for the next 10 years, regardless of popularity.

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  48. And that's the thing, Long Suffering. There are, we can all agree, different ways to build a successful franchise. Once you "get there", like the Devils and Red Wings, staying there becomes the challenge.

    But first you have to get there. Do the Leafs stay patient and wait, wait for these kids to emerge? Maybe.

    Your "call to action" asks the Leafs to get some help now- specifically in the area of leadership.

    My guess is, regardless of the "plan", all kinds of options are being discussed as we speak.

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  49. mrj...I tend to believe the Leafs will keep their picks, especially if they have an opportunity to draft in the top five or so this coming summer.

    I agree that building through the draft is a wise approach, generally speaking. But to do that, it helps to finish very low in the standings for several years, as did Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago and more recently, the Oilers.

    As I mentioned to Long Suffering, my thought is the Leafs are considering various options, perhaps a hybrid of what they have been doing (building with young guys) and still trying to add veterans who can help in the dressing room.

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