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Here’s hoping Steve Staios can make a real difference—beyond his title—when it comes to player development

I'll be away from the computer most of the day on Thursday- I'll aim to respond to any comments posted as soon as possible....

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If I heard correctly on Wednesday, former long-time NHL defenseman Steve Staios is joining the ever-expanding Maple Leaf front office as a “Player Development Advisor”.

I don’t precisely know what that means, but as they already have, if I’m not mistaken, a Player Development Coach, I’m guessing Staios will be an all-around ‘this and that’ sort of assistant while getting his feet wet on the operations side of the hockey business.

In chatting with various thoughtful readers who have posted this week here at VLM on different topics, I’ve been trying to put into words something that I’m struggling with a bit.  And that is, for me, there is a subtle but key difference between “player development” when it comes to drafting and player acquisitions and even what an organization does to work with their young hopefuls at the minor-league level, compared with when we're talking about development at the NHL level.

I mean, of course the two (AHL and NHL development) are related.  I just think there’s a nuance there, and for me, that’s where the Leafs need to show they have taken strides.

Just as we have moved from a “no patience for a five year re-build” mode to a new, more patient approach (at least that’s what we’re now being asked to “buy”) based on youth, I’d like to see more headway in the NHL development area.  Here’s what I mean, though it may still not be clear:  when I look at players like Gustavsson and Schenn, for example, I believe that the Leafs did a horrible job with those guys.

First of all, Schenn should never have been here in the first place.  He should have played junior another year, then a season with the Marlies, then slowly groomed as a 5-6 guy, etc..  By this past season, he may well have been emerging as a valuable defender with the promise of much more to come.  Instead of having an young stud defensemen (remember building from "the back end"...?), many fans were glad to see him go, and the best they could say about him was that Schenn was slow and didn’t see the ice well, but he tried hard.

For a guy drafted 5th overall—and in our “system” for four years—that’s nowhere near good enough.

It was the same with The Monster.  Burke thought enough of him to fly to Europe to talk him into coming to Toronto, and paid him a lot of money.  After three confidence-shattering years in Toronto, he was worth exactly nothing on the trade market, either at the deadline or before he hit free-agency.  A goalie that was worth that kind of attention, that kind of signing bonus and contract (and that kind of hoopla after an excellent career in Sweden) surely should have been “developed” the past three years so that either he could be effective with the Leafs, or worth something on the market as a trade-able asset.

Hey, I’m as much a fan of Dallas Eakins and what he seems to be doing with the Marlies as anyone else.  I’m not close to that situation as many are, but it’s evident he and his staff have helped a number of our young players. But again, that’s one aspect, just one phase of a strong overall development process in an organizational “system”.

My hope is that Staios, with his experience as a player—and this guy was not your superstar player, more the kind of guy that worked his tail off for everything he got—can bring that knowledge with him in his new post.  I know that it’s the job of the Leaf coaching staff to run practices and all that, but hopefully Staios can have an impact in building the confidence of young players so that they go forward, not backwards, as they earn their time with the Leafs.

I look at someone like Nazem Kadri and I think a lot of fans are honestly conflicted.  On the one hand, we all say, c’mon, he’s still a kid, give him time to develop, he’ll be fine.  In the same breath it feels like he has been a “prospect” forever, though in reality it’s far from forever.  But again, as with Schenn, we are looking for results, especially when we see players drafted after those guys already being impact players in the league.  (Those who visit here regularly will know that I’m not a fan of how Kadri has been handled the last two seasons.  I’ve said here before he should have spent the entire 2010-’11 season in the AHL, and they did him no favours by yanking him back and forth like a yo-yo….)

Bottom line: I need to see better player development at the NHL level.  If Staios can contribute in that manner, then the hiring will prove very worthwhile.

11 comments:

  1. Interesting topic. I'd have to agree that that the development at the NHL level has been a big question mark. I always thought that this had more to do with scouting than anything. But how could they be this bad and that wrong so many times?

    -carts

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  2. Thanks carts...appreciate the post.

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  3. how big is the front-office budget? it must be astronomical... it seems to me like burke is just amassing an enormous entourage. how can you really measure 'player development?' i suppose if the leafs make the playoffs next spring, i'll tip my hat to steve staios.

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  4. "...how could they be this bad and that wrong so many times?"

    They have been rushing their players for years, always looking for a new young player to save the team. Recently they have been able to slow down and give them proper seasoning in the AHL...and like clockwork the kids start developing properly.

    Contrast the rushing that the Leafs used to do in comparison with the way Detroit keeps their guys in the AHL until they are fully ready and then look at Detroit's ussual place in the standings...do you see a pattern?

    When's the last time you heard about Detroit ruining a prospect? If he was on Detroit, Luke Schenn never would have played his first year in the NHL.

    Look at a very decent defenceman in Niklas Kronwall who played 4 years in the Swedish Elite league and then another 2 years and over 100 games in the AHL before he goes full time with the Red Wings.

    Schenn should have gotten some of that carefull development time.

    Eventually Kadri did get his AHL time and I think he will be fine. People complain, but Kadri is almost perfectly on track for his draft postion and development. Scott Glennie, taken just after Kadri hasn't even played an NHL game yet.

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  5. Michael
    Schenn may not have had the player development focus that you (and many others of us) would have liked but I don't think the same could be said for Gus. His problem may have been too much focus on his development by a goalie coach that tried to change his style. And we all know how that turned out!
    Having said that, I agree with your main point and that there needs to be increased focus on properly developing what we have. Times have changed since Burke took the job. Free agency is no longer the market it once was because the really good players seem to get locked up with long term contracts if they are comfortable with the team they are with.
    To attract any of the few that do become available, we need to first become an attractive team which they would like to join. The realistic way to accomplish this is to maximize the performance of your existing assets and trade for the pieces you need where you can improve the overall team.
    We can't expect to trade for a star player at this point because we have little to offer in return so we should just forget this wishful thinking.
    In my view, once we are seen to be on the right track, and have drafted/developed/acquired some assets that are looked upon favorably by both other GM's (for trades) and players (for Free Agent signings), management will have more options to improve the team with quality players and increased success will follow.
    Slow and steady. Maximize performance from what you have, take advantage of what trades might become available and results should follow.
    The player development you are suggesting is an integral part of this plan in my view. Who knows, we may have some potential real gems in the system already. Let's develop them to be their best and find out.

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  6. Great post, Michael. I couldn't agree more. One of the Leafs other poorly stick handled approaches is that young players are often feted as saviours - so the disappointment is magnified when they don't live up to unrealistic expectations. As an example, even though I've watched Kadri at both NHL and AHL levels, I still have no idea if he can stick with the Leafs. Hopefully a more measured approach to player development will help all players attain their potential rather than leave them in an unsure limbo and under the gun from fans.

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  7. Sorry to be so late responding to comments today...

    Thanks Alex C. The entourage is huge, for sure.....

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  8. Kadri may well be fine, DP. I would only say that they still went at it backwards- rushing him on more than one occasion in 2010-'11 when (by their own admission) he wasn't ready and it simply wasn't necessary....

    Your Detroit example is excellent.....

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  9. Great post Ed!

    The only point of clarification: for me, Gustavsson is a case of bad development. Allaire's influence hurt and did not help Gus develop properly. For me, that is about coaching and poor development....

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  10. I agree with your comment about Gus's "development". The Leafs screwed it up. I should have been more clear in my comment! There is obviously a need to develop players properly.

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