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Scratch beneath the surface and the Gustavsson and Schenn deals reveal something about the Leafs…

Many Leaf fans expressed, if not quite joy, a sense of palpable relief upon the news on Saturday, that the much-maligned (and pending UFA) Jonas Gustavsson had been traded away to the Winnipeg Jets.  The return was a 7th round draft choice and for some Leaf supporters that was “better than nothing”.  And that it was, I guess.

While no one with a rooting interest in the Leafs expected (or likely wanted, in truth) Gus to return for a fourth season in blue and white, the reality of the deal hit me in a way that made me reflect on what really has been going on here.

My thought is not that, at this point, I expected the Leafs to do better than a 7th round pick for a goalie, who, at 27, is still unproven in North America. That ship had sailed, no question.

But here’s my concern:  we’re missing the real story here, which is not, “Hey, we got rid of Gustavsson and actually got a draft pick back…”.  No, for me, the real story is that, a few years after Burke made a big deal about acquiring a guy who was supposed to be a bona fide NHL goalie—maybe even a star—"The Monster" had, essentially, zero value in the marketplace.  He had none at the trade deadline, and basically none now.

Yes, part of it is that he is a pending UFA, of course.  But somehow we managed to take a goalie who was prized and much sought-after three short years ago, who was trumpeted as another sign of Burke’s player-acquisition moxie, who was good enough that he earned a legit nickname because he was so promising in the Swedish Elite League…and we turned him into a goalie with absolutely no value.

How does this happen?

Yes, we can point to Gus’ heart issues, but c’mon, do we really believe that is the whole picture here?  It isn’t.  We took a good, young, daring, athletic goalie and tried to make him something he isn’t.  Over time, his confidence waned.  He clearly had lost the faith of his coaches, his teammates—and management.  (Check out any number of posts on this site, we’ve talked about it for a long time…)  This past season, even when Burke was claiming “Gustavsson saved our season” or words to that effect, everyone knew it was just Burke talking again.  It did nothing to restore Gus’ lost place in people’s minds.  He soon was back on the bench.

That ship, too, had sailed.

There are many sub-issues here.  Goaltending management under Ron Wilson was, well, scatter-shot and largely unhelpful to all the goalies who played for him during his four seasons behind the Leaf bench.  But it’s the cumulative impact on a player who should have at the very least been a trade-worthy asset that troubles me.  Even if the brass now truly believes that Reimer and Scrivens—or some-yet-to-be-acquired netminder—are the guys for the future, here's what has happened: we took a player that  should have been able to net us a couple of say, second-round draft choices or a maybe even a first-round choice if we had developed him properly and yet the best we could do was a death-bed deal for a draft choice we will likely never hear about again.

Again, my point is not that Gustavsson is worth a lot now, but what he should have been worth if the Leafs had developed him effectively.  (We don’t know if Lindback, for example, will ever be a true number-one goalie, but he sure provided Nashville with some future assets…they played it perfectly.)

Similarly, what were (now past tense...) we doing with Luke Schenn?  First, we brought him up when it simply wasn’t necessary.  He was too young and should have been playing junior hockey.  Oh, he was impressive as an 18 year-old, but many are—at first.  They are filled with a rambunctious enthusiasm that coaches love.  Mistakes are glossed over because the youngsters are all blood, guts and potential.

But four years later, the focus was on the mistakes he was still making.  How did we—and more importantly, Leaf management and GM’s around the league—feel about Schenn’s game now?  He was worth a good young forward from the Flyers, yes. But would we have also set his game—and long-term development— even further back, had he stayed in Toronto?

And then there’s young Kadri.  (How long can I keep writing that?)  I have zero problem with him playing with the Marlies.  Those who visit here regularly know that I called for that last season, in 2010-’11.  What I mostly wanted was for the organization not to call him up one day as a potential offensive savior, put him on the first line and power-play unit, then mess with him as he suddenly found himself on the third line, and then back with the Marlies.

The yo-yo has continued since he was drafted.  Is he, too, worth what he should be, now?

I just find this all sobering when we start to get excited about all the “great young prospects” the Leafs have, and how deep we believe we are now on the blueline.  Gardiner has elite talent, yes, but let’s face it, he thrived this past season because he was essentially allowed to just play.  He was a rookie who shocked everyone with his calm and confidence.  And that was great.  However, he got by on his natural skill set—and that may well take him a long way in the league.  But I’ll want to see how he develops under the tutelage he will receive as a Maple Leaf. 

If we’re honest, in terms of the much-ballyhooed “development” the Leafs say they believe in, we thoroughly messed up Gustavsson.  When you grind a player's confidence into the ground, what is he worth?  He was only 24 when he signed here, and should be entering his prime years as a goalie in the years ahead.  He leaves as a goalie who, as I’ve said here for almost two years, needs a fresh start somewhere else, anywhere else.  Will it be Winnipeg?  Maybe.  But he needs to be somewhere where the coaches will just let him play, use his skills and not mess with him—and where management truly believes in him, not just with empty words.

He remains an example of why my faith in this “patient re-build” process leaves me uncertain.  I’m not sure our development track record is good enough to have strong faith.


  1. I guess I am looking at this in a more positive light. I am thinking that we are starting do a much better job at managing our prospects. Schenn and Gustavsson might be among the last that we really don't handle properly.

    Schenn should not have started in the NHL as an 18 year old prospect.(Imagine what that would have done to Gardiner) Gustavsson should have had a season or a least 40 games to dominate in the AHL.

    Look what we are doing now. Scrivens got that time to develop and dominate in the AHL.

    Jesse Blacker (a good prospect) isn't being rushed. He became and OHL All Star and twice competed in the Memorial Cup and then went on to the AHL and played in the AHL playoffs. Schenn should have gotten some of that constant confidence building.

    I am ok with how we have managed Kadri. This year or next will be his time to permanently stick in the NHL. I don't understand all the negativity. For his age and draft position, he is actually right on track...a point a game guy in the regular season and playoffs in the AHL. The addition of JVR may actually help him. More size on the NHL team means his lack of size matters less.

    Frattin also seems poised to breakout.

    However, the most encouraging story is that of Jerry D'Amigo. He struggled with the Marlies and we sent him down to the Kitchner Rangers to get his game back and it worked. He recently played at almost a point a game in the AHL playoffs. In previous administrations we might have destroyed Jerry D'Amigo's confidence and career.

    Kadri, Scrivens, Blacker, D'Amigo just looking at these guys makes me think we are doing better job.

  2. I guess we'll see, DP!

    I think Kadri would be further ahead if he had been allowed to spend all of 2010-'11 with the Marlies. They have, in my view, bounced him around far too much.

    Good post- thanks DP.

  3. I think I might have to disagree to a certain extent. Both Schenn and Gustavsson are bi products of poor coaching and poor team defense. Both players had bright moments and both players had moments of disaster. However, poor franchise development is not to blame for these players being shipped out of town. The pressure, coaching system, and defense were so bad the last few years that these players took the brunt of the criticism.

    Hopefully the likes of Kadri, Frattin, JVR, Kessel, Gardiner, Rielly, and Blacker will be true examples of how to properly develop players.

    Ill say this, if Morgan Rielly is playing on the blue and white this year, ill be extremely disappointed.

  4. Thanks rjoynt...we probably don't look at this much differently.

    I liked both Gus and Schenn. I've written here often in support of both players. I just believe their confidence was battered here, partly by coaching, partly by lack of management support (in Gus' case). So for me, that does represent a failure, and a reason why, in Gustavsson's case, he had zero value on the market.

    Good post, thanks.

  5. I have to agree with observations made by Michael, DP and rjoynt. On the surface, the different positions appear contradictory; however, there appears to be truth in each commentator’s statements. With the salary cap and terrible trading under JFJ, there was clearly a dearth of quality personnel, which prompted irregular development of the likes of Schenn and Kadri, as well as an unstable NHL environment for Gustavsson. The flip side can be seen in the development of Holzer, D’Amigo and Scrivens, who were good enough to help bring their team to an AHL championship, a development arc which could be poised to have a significant impact on the parent club.

    There appears to be a long-term issue of synchronicity at play, a complex, fluid mixture of development and availability of roster positions at the appropriate time. In other words, if the developing players enjoy the benefit of a proper minor league development, there has to be roster spots available when that time comes. Of course, Detroit comes to mind. Burke appears to have been trying to address each issue simultaneously, with more success at attaining organizational depth that parent club performance. (I guess the difference between a 25th place club and a second place club overall confirms that point.) This development situation is remarkable, given how active Burke has been at trading away draft picks, albeit picking up prospects from other sources as well. I feel that success in this area has to reflect on Dave Morrison and the amateur scouting staff, as well as Eakins and the Marlies coaching staff, of course.

    The effort to plug holes through veteran free agency seems to have had limited success, with the exception of the perennially undervalued Beauchemin, who was picked up late and relatively cheap. My sense is that Michael’s Exhibit A, the Monster, had greater value at the trade deadline, when several insiders hinted a second was available for the taking. Why not do it then? At that time, Scrivens had not carried the Marlies through the playoffs up to that ultra-weird overtime goal and Luongo was not even a distant possibility. Whereas Burke should have pulled the trigger on the Monster for greater value, he froze. Do you see my point? Synchronicity. Now he has a properly developed Scrivens waiting in the wings, whereas at the trade deadline he would have been less sure of that. For better or worse, the proper evolution of Ben Scrivens has also strengthened Burke’s and Nonis’ hands in their current tug of war with Gillis and company.

  6. I think that's a very fair assessment of the situation Burke found -and now currently finds- himself in.

    My only nagging thought is if they had truly developed Gustavsson to his potential, a) he would still be with the Leafs, and maybe the "need" for goaltending help would not be so seemingly dire and b) he would indeed have been worth much more than a possible 7th round draft choice.

    Thanks Bobby C. Great stuff as always from you...

    1. Contradiction? On the one hand we say kadri was not given the chance to play with the Leafs, instead he was bounced between the marlies and the Leafs. Then on the other hand we say shenn was not given the time to develop properly with the marlies. Can doing the exact opposite both be wrong?
      When the monster played well, he played often. When he did not play as well as reimer, he was a backup. He did not get bounced around from the Marlies to the Leafs unless if it was for conditioning into game shape from injury. How could management have done things any differently with him. He deserved the playing time he earned.
      For those who say that Ron Wilson ruinned the confidence of Shenn. They may be surprised to see that Shenn had less ice time under Carlyle than he did under Ron Wilson. So you can't blame Wilson for Shenn's poor play. At some point the player has to take the blame for his inconsistent play. Ironic that Shenn played so well during his rookie year that was also under Wilson. Yet last year Shenn was slow mentally reacting to plays, he was often caught flat footed on the ice and was inconsistent with his first pass and being tough against his opponents.
      In this game only the strong survive and the cream always rises to the top. Good players find ways to be good players. It seems SINCE Shenn and Gustavsson did not play well, we are looking for answers as to why they didn't. The first ones we blame are the management for not developing them properly. By putting them in positions to better succeed. Good players find ways to perservere and be better no matter which situation they be put in. Some players need time to develop. Some go through ups and downs in their careers. It has less to do with management and more to do with the players themselves.

  7. Ah, but according to Burke, the real reason for Gustavsson's lack of success in Toronto had nothing to do with the complete failure by this organization to develop him properly, but rather, Gustavsson lacked the necessary "athletic ability".

    Not that I am at all bitter that the Leafs managed to turn a highly sought after asset into a player that other teams want in spite of the damage done by the Leafs.
    Or that rather than working to improve one of our few stay-at-home defenseman (I know that Schenn has played poorly, but he is still only 22), we instead traded him for...another winger with a reputation for "softness".

    I'll admit to being more pessimistic than most of your commentators when it comes to the Leafs' organization learning from their mistakes in developing the youth. (Burke's comments on being fine with Reimer and Scrivens next year...I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that it's merely posturing intended for potential trade partners; but what legitimate veterans are left by this point?) It's hard to shake the feeling that Burke is backing himself into a corner.

  8. You pick at the scab that continues to bother me, too, Alexandra, when it comes to how the organization handles "player development". While many fans are happy that they keep acquiring assets and that the Marlies did well this season, there is more to player development than those things. That stuff doesn't matter much if, at the big-league level, you drive players' confidence into the ground, as happened with Schenn and Monster.

    Good stuff, thanks.

  9. I respect what you're saying bluenwhite. I guess I just look at this situation a bit differently.

    Yes, athletes need to be mentally tough to survive, etc. But I've been concerned with how Monster was handled for a long time, as I've posted here often over the past couple of seasons. His departure was a long time in coming.

    Could he have been "tougher" and played better? Maybe. But the organization bailed on him, in my view, and he knew it, making it very hard to play to this potential here. I think he'll do better elsewhere.

    As fr Schenn, we say he played well at 18. Most kids do, because their mistakes are over-looked and they play over their heads. When the league catches up with them, that's when coaching, patience and proper support from the organization take over. Schenn should have stayed longer in junior hockey, then played with the Marlies, then move up to the Leafs. Given where the Leafs were going (nowhere), he should have been, again just in my opinion, developed patiently and more appropriately.

    Kadri should have spent all of 2010-'11 in the AHL. Yet they kept trying to bring him up, hoping he would be an offensive catalyst to get them into the playoffs. That didn't help the player.

    I just think the team has handled these guys poorly. Again, just my view.

    Your posts always keep me thinking. Thanks bluenwhite.

  10. I don't understand why bringing Kadri to the NHL for a few games would be bad for his development. He showed himself very well in the AHL this year (after showing he wasn't quite ready to be a top 2 line player in the NHL).

    I believe this is Kadri's year. He'll make the team out of camp and never look back at the AHL. That is IF we don't trade him.

    Gus had his chance. 40 games in the AHL his first year looks wise in hindsight. Remember he was an undrafted free agent. It's not like he was drafted fifth overall like Carey Price and some huge talent. That said I wish him well and I believe he can be an NHL goalie. He just doesn't fit here in T.O. anymore.

  11. Thanks for posting, Robert.

    For me, it's a question of the unnecessary yo-yo he was on the last two seasons. He should have stayed in the AHL from the get-go, and once he was completely "cooked", brought up and, as you say, never look back.

    Instead, they kept promoting him, dangling a carrot and then sending him back when he didn't produce offensively, or play the way they wanted.

    He might have been fully ready for the NHL this past season if he had stayed in the AHL all of 2010-'11...

    Again, just my view.

  12. I strong disagree with you about the 'development' of Jonas Gustavsson. There's probably 3 things a team can do to help the development of a player - slowly build skill/confidence via juniors/AHL, putting them in situations to succeed by giving them limited action and having a good support system (veteran players).

    The first point doesn't apply to JG - as mentioned he was a highly sought after FA and there was likely an unwritten agreement that he wouldn't start his career in the AHL. Burke could have specified that it would be no guarantee he would start in the NHL, but then the Monster likely would have signed elsewhere.

    For the 2nd point, the Leafs did what they could IMO. In his first year, JG played behind Vesa Toskala, who immediately went out and wet the bed - forcing JG into 42 games behind a leaky defense. In terms of player development his first year was probably not ideal - so what did Burke do? He acquired Jean Sebastien Giguere mid-season to both limit JG's action and provide the support system helpful to any rookie netminder. Now, entering his 2nd season JG is pencilled in to backup JSG - a perfect situation for a sophmore goalie. So what happens? JSG eventually gets injured and forces JG into action - his play is both brilliant and inconsistent. The biggest knock on the Monster since he got here is that he can make great saves, but loses focus nearly once per game to let in a 'soft' goal - that's nothing to do with development, and everything to do with the player. Finally, in his 3rd year, he is once again given a shot at an extended run as the #1 goalie and again - brilliance and inconsistence. In 3 years as a goalie, he's been given multiple chances to go in and play big minutes for the club, and twice he's come up short. If you ask any young back-up goalie in the NHL, that's all they can ask for. A chance. Jonas Gustavsson got at least 2.

    The Leafs had no chance to push JG through the minors, but provided him a pretty good support system for most of his first 2 years. While I agree that the Ron Wilson methodology of choosing a starter is lacking, the reason JG didn't garner the Leafs more assets is because when given the opportunity to play, he didn't play well enough. I agree that he was forced into action too many times because the Leafs #1 goalie had issues (Toskala, JSG, Reimer), but that shouldn't be viewed as a mistake - those are all chances for JG to show his worth. The Leafs didn't fail Jonas Gustavsson, at least not in the way that can be argued for Kadri/Schenn. Jonas simply failed to perform at the level necessary to be an NHL goalie - and in my opinion, that was not because of a poor 'development plan'.

  13. Solid points Adrian. At the end of the day, the beauty of being fans is we can respectfully agree to disagree!

    For me, it's not that Gus wasn't given "chances" to play. It's that he was pushed into being the kind of goalie he wasn't (Allaire), and it was clear to me that the team, management and coaching staff had zero faith in him. If I (and many other observers) felt it, so did Gus.

    Thanks Adrian.

  14. I can agree with the Allaire assessment, but it's kind of a 2 way street with the 'faith' thing. JG lost the faith of his team/management/coaches and never did anything when given the chance to get it back. It's tough to argue that they should have had more faith in him when he never did anything to deserve it.

    Agree to disagree! (except i'm right =P)

  15. I hear what you're saying Adrian...we disagree, yes, but your last line made me laugh!

  16. I rarely comment but this is an excellent insight. The value of players greatly diminishes when they are in a yo yo situation much like that of Kadri's which implies that he is incapable of handling the play at the NHL level, which he isn't at the moment when thrust into the savior mold. Ultimately, his value appears to lessen every time, he is sent down.

  17. Thanks for taking the time to post, Anon.

  18. Fantastic post and wonderful counter-point from adrian!

  19. Thanks Luc- the excellent discussion here is one if the things I appreciate most about hosting this site...

  20. You know, I am fully annoyed by articles like this. Yes I am a leaf fan. As far as it goes with the team....I want to believe. But I can't. The reason is the constant crap that comes out of the media, of expectations, failed this and failed that. The only thing that I see that is so entirely different here, than any other NHL city, (with exception to maybe a Montreal), is the over analyzed and under appreciation for the players and their management here in this city, BY THE MEDIA, and crap like this, that I just read. Maybe players would so covet the atmosphere and the greatness of Toronto and this team, if these racoons would stop trying to kill our wildlife here. Brian Burke must be appaulled with this crap. And I would bet that he has a good laugh at you hounds from time to time, but at the same time, frustrated with the you guys killing any chance we have for a descent hockey team. I shake my head everytime I hear someone with a motivation to only rip and be a negative influence in this city. Get it together people.

  21. Anon...I've been following this organization for more than 50 years. I find it hard to believe that "the media", or a blog like this, is the reason the team does not meet expectations, or why current management, for example, over-talks and under-delivers.

    Is there "pressure" here? Sure, in a certain sense. But these are individuals (athletes, coaches and GM's) who make millions of dollars a season to do something they love doing. They can handle the occasional media piece that doesn't make them sound better than they are.

    For the record, this site has been filled with hundreds of positive pieces about the Leafs, individual players and the history of the team. But when I feel it is appropriate to comment objectively on how the organization handles certain situations, well, I do that. Anyone who has a different perspective is free to comment here - or start their own site.