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The Leafs make the top 120 in the Businessweek “Smartest Spenders” survey (or the bottom 5, depending on your perspective…)

My rudimentary review of a story just published on Thursday by Bloomberg Businessweek magazine online seems to affirm what most of us have seen with our own eyes the past few years:  the Maple Leafs haven’t done very well.  Nor have they done well given the amount of money they've spent. (I want to mention that I only noticed the article in question because one of the many thoughtful posters here (Brad, via his moniker, cbh747)  brought it to my attention.)

The survey (click to see the story) looks at various criteria to make the case for which sports organizations are the  “smartest spenders” from the four major leagues—the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL.  To be clear, it’s not like the NHL was just given short shrift because of its perceived 'lesser-light' status:  The Red Wings, Penguins and Bruins all make the “top ten” smartest organizations, based on the criteria used.  (Four more NHL teams make up the top 15, including the hated Flyers.  For the record, the Tampa Bay Rays, a baseball team, are ranked “number one”, or the smartest spenders of all 122 teams assessed…)

That criteria has to do with how much money each franchise has spent “per win”, but also includes playoff victories, etc..

Where do our Maple Leafs rank?  Well, they are on the list.  But of those 122 franchises under the microscope, (again, this comes from the folks at Businessweek, not me) the Leafs sit at number 118. (The Islanders - yeah - are below us, along with the Mets, Timberwolves and the NFL's St. Louis Rams.)

In any event, I don’t pretend to be able to say whether the “list” reflects some kind of statistically valid data or any truly rigorous analysis.  Maybe it does, I really have no idea.  But as I alluded to above, it pretty much tells us what we already knew:  the Leafs haven’t been good enough, and it can’t all be laid at the feet of John Ferguson Jr.

The analysis evidently takes into consideration the last five years.  We know that Brian Burke has been in charge here now for almost four full years and Cliff Fletcher for a time before him.  So while Ferguson’s years at the helm surely put the organization in a position to struggle- and necessitated a rather massive re-build- he is only somewhat to blame at this point.  The current administration has to accept a certain amount of culpability as well.

I’d really love to hear how some of you feel.  Do you just blow off these kinds of stories as irrelevant and unfair and say, “no way, Burke’s doing a great job.  We have all these tremendous prospects…we’re moving in the right direction…”.  Or are you more in the, “four years, yeah, I expected a lot more bottom line success than this…” camp?

Maybe you’re in the middle, in a kind of “wait and see” mode, though that seems to be a perpetual state in Leafland.  Regardless, this is a result-oriented business, as we keep being told, and regardless of the measure, missing the playoffs every year since 2004—and every spring since Burke took over—is what it is.

118th, eh?  Oh well.

Have your say….


  1. MIchael,

    I too would have missed this story if not for Brad, so thanks to him for pointing it out. I have to be honest and say that it made me smile to see just how incompetent the Leafs have been over the last 5 years. My apologies to all the other Leaf fans for this bit of schadenfreude. There is a part of me that very much wants Burke to fail miserably, and take him down a notch, or several. I know that it isn't right as a fan to think this way, but there is something about him that I just don't like. I have the same reaction to Bettman as well, don't know why perhaps its primal. Or I just don't like lawyers, that could be it.

    I would like to point out that the number one team on the list has never won the World Series. That is the point of the games isn't it? We do still play to win the game, correct? So lets just say that it isn't a perfect system of analysis. Other teams in the top 20 haven't won either. Lots of them have and that is really the point. The Leafs haven't won anything in a long time.

    I would be more willing to give Burke and the management team, they really are a team there are so many of them, credit for a plan if I thought that the plan was clear. And if they didn't keep changing the target every chance they get. I won't rehash all the changes, everyone is very familiar with the lack of direction. One I would like to touch on is the drafting of Morgan Reilly. Everyone has said forever it seems that the Leafs need a number one centre and a prime time goalie. Burke has had no success trading for either, and this year chose to draft a player that is very similar to players on the roster. Gardner and Liles and Reilly all seem to be the same player to varying degrees. Yet, Burke takes another mobile, left shot, left side d'man with more offensive upside than defense. I clearly am missing something, Grigorenko, Forsberg and Subban were all available. He might have gotten two of them if he had tried to work another team.

    I would be very happy with the idea of the prospects that were in the system if there was more than one potential #1 center in the midst. I have no idea if Colborne will pan out or not, I do hope so. He has good size and hands, if he has recovered from the hand injury and makes some huge strides in the next year or so. Who else is there that we haven't already had a look at? I have seen Kadri, and Frattin, there are goalies waiting, but you never know with them.

    I guess that I had hoped Burke would be able to make more bold moves than he has. Since it was essentially a payroll analysis per win, I will give Burke credit for taking bad contracts to acquire other assets, Lombardi trade for example. This needs to be taken into account since that has to affect the result.

    It is a very bad time to be a Toronto sports fan. All 3 of our major professional teams are in the bottom 40% of this analysis and 2 of our teams are bottom 10%. That is some awful record.

    I would be interested to hear from other fans what they find so encouraging about the Leafs at this point? Is it blind faith that I am missing, a good old dose of optimism, or the knowledge that Burke is on the job and will right the ship?

  2. A sincere thank you, Jim. I am thoroughly enjoying your posts here.

    On the Burke comment, I think we have the right to feel what we feel when it comes to figures in sports- be they players or those in management. We may or may not always be fair in our assessment, but sometimes as fans, we are simply responding not so much to what those in authority do, but how we perceive that they do it.

    My own views on Burke go back to his many years in Vancouver. I have little regard for those who were with the Canucks when the Bertuzzi "incident" occurred. It was an awful moment in hockey history, and I choose to not simply shuffle it aside as though the organization had nothing to do with what happened. Nor do I choose to pretend that it never happened. Forget ending a career, it changed a person's life forever.

    On the hockey side, I've said here before, Burke's record of finding goalies is poor. He never solved that problem in Vancouver, and hasn't here. Yet he claims he always builds his teams "from the back". Really?

    As I've also pointed out, his record during his two major "re-build" projects - in Vancouver and Toronto - is a grand total, if I'm not mistaken, of one playoff series win in 11 seasons.

    As for why people believe in him here, I think many fans buy into what I call the Burke "myth". They think he is somehow smarter than other GM's. Yes, he is a sharp hockey guy, no question, but he is, in my view, simply one of many out there.

    Maybe he has a nice core of young talent in the system here. Hard to really project. But given the number of high draft choices he has had to work with, and the fact that he has traded away useful players like Versteeg and Kaberle (though Kaberle is clearly not what he was before Wilson arrived), we should have some nice prospects. Besides, virtually every organization is loaded with solid young "prospects".

    Thanks Jim. Well said as always.

  3. Michael,

    Thank you very much for the kind words. I appreciate them very much, I really do. If in any way I add to the discussion or the vibe of your blog I am honoured that you feel that way.

    The Bertuzzi incident was one of the things that I have hated in hockey more than I would like to, it really made me angry at the culture. From the fact that if you make a marginally dirty play, even if it was unintentional or accidental, that you have to fight someone for it, is awful. The worst part is that Moore stepped up and fought the Canuck that challenged him, and then handed Cooke his ass. That should have been the end of it. There was no need for him to have to run the gauntlet of the Canucks. I really don't care that Naslund was Bertuzzi's friend. I really don't. Talking about this made me think of Burke wanting to rent a barn and fight Kevin Lowe. Made me smile, at the ridiculousness of it all.

  4. I have very much appreciated your contribution, Jim. Trying to post (almost) daily on the Leafs the past three years is sometimes a challenge. But when those who visit chip in and create thoughtful dialogue, it sure helps.

    On Bertuzzi- the hockey culture still has much about it that is saddening. The Bertuzzi incident was not a hockey fight- not even close. My comments above express my views.

    Thanks Jim.

  5. This one of those things that can make you a little bit more unhappy if you don't think about the situation carefully.

    The Leafs are a big money team, its just a fact. They have taken on some contracts that other teams could not. Just look at the Lombardi situation. We took a risk and paid a whole bunch of extra money to get rid of Lebda and get Franson. Lombardi's contract was the price...many people where surprised when when Lombardi cam back so early.

    We have also thrown money at only have to look at Komisarek and Connolly.

    Small market teams can't do things like that nearly as often as the Leafs and so they are forced to be more efficient.

    I would actually be ok if the Leafs spent even more money as long as it got us into the playoffs.

    Right now there is $7 million in cap space. If that money on a free agent or some big contract in a trade could get us into the playoffs....spend it!

    I don't care about extra profits for the owners.

    Think about it this way. Would you feel better cheering for the Islanders? They have a much better efficiency rating. They spend $20 million less than the Leafs... but they also win even less than the Leafs so you usually have three extra losses every season. Life is depressing enough, I don't need another 3 loses every year.

    I am going to quote a bit of Al Davis. I don't care what they spend..."Just win baby."

  6. Thanks DP. I sort of touched on this in a recent post about what the new Leaf owners might really feel about the CBA. It may be that they really would prefer to be able to spend more if they wanted to, without a cap to level the playing field.

    I just thought it was an interesting overview from Bloomberg Businessweek. We need to see the organization do a lot better with the money it does spend.

  7. I haven't read the article myself, so forgive me if my analysis is filled with presumptions here. But from what you're telling me, it appears as though the Leafs would be at or near the bottom of the list even if their payroll had hovered at the salary cap floor the past five years. Simply put, zero playoff games equals zero bang for your buck, no matter how much you spend.

    That said, I don't think I would put Burke and the Leafs at the bottom of the scale when it comes to fiscal responsibility. There have been a few forays into free agency that haven't worked out as well as hoped, such as Armstrong, Komisarek, and Connelly (so far at least). But none of these have been break-the-bank contracts. Furthermore, I appreciate that Burke has resisted the insane 15-year front-loaded deals other GMs have given out, mortgaging the future. Looking specifically at Minnesota this year, they have committed $15 million in cap space per year for a very long time. This much investment for two players who are very good, but not on the level of superstar/game changer/franchise player in my estimation. These two players would be hard pressed in and of themselves to turn a team that finished 14 points out of playoff position into a real contender.
    So I don't mind an occasional gamble on a free agent who is an established NHL regular, given a three to five year deal. It can hurt if it doesn't work out, but it won't devastate the franchise. Burke is certainly open to criticism for taking four years and counting to put together a team that just might squeak into playoff contention finally. I just can't point the Finger at him (pun intended) for spending like a drunken sailor at over-priced talent.

    Another way to look at it is that the Leafs generate more revenue than any team by a wide margin. Even in the salary-cap era of today, they have the luxury other teams do not have of being able to spend to the limit of the cap and beyond (dumping salaries in the minors, buying out contracts), and still leaving the shareholders happy with the bottom line. Maybe that's a completely different conversation about we blindly loyal fans continuing to line the ownership's pockets regardless of our on-ice return on our investment. But I do think it's a valid point. If Business Week is examining this from a sheer business standpoint, the Leafs should be a remarkable success in their eyes.

  8. Well said, Pete. There is no question the Leafs are a "business" success, and immensely profitable.

    I think you make fair points about Burke. He has not "gone crazy" with long-term contracts. And I agree, Minnesota, for example, has made a huge splash, but there is no certainty they will suddenly be a great team for years to come. We'll see.

    Thanks for chiming in on this one, Pete.

  9. Hi Michael,

    I think this illustrates a couple of things. First, we do not get good value for dollars spent.

    More importantly, the Leafs are forced to pay a premium for tier 2 free agents. Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly, the list goes on. I have to wonder if our costs would go down if Toronto was a destination of choice for NHL players?

  10. Exactly, cbh747. And your second point is particularly apt. We do seem to have to pay a lot for that 'next level' of player, just to get them here. You'd think guys would want to play here - despite the media scrutiny, etc...