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There are many sports experts who compare the Leafs to the MLB's New York Yankees, the big-bad empire of riches, hell bent on winning without any consideration for monetary costs. Beloved by their legion of fans, and hated by all others. But there is one main difference between the Leafs and Yanks, and in reality between the MLB and the NHL, the Yankees can buy a contender year after year, and the Leafs have failed to do so for generations. You see, in baseball, when you really look at it, there is only one batter at the plate, and only one pitcher on the mound. A baseball team can keep adding expensive individuals to it's roster and in most cases, continue to improve it's team. The same can not be said for the NHL, which can best be proven by this year's Stanley Cup Champion, the Anaheim Ducks. Yes, the Ducks did sign and trade for some of their better players (Niedermayer, Pronger), high-priced veterans who were vital to the team's success. However, they did so after first building an excellent young nucleus of young supporting talent. Say what you want about the expensive stars on that team, but I don't see a championship without the contributions of Getzlaf, Perry, Penner, Beauchemin, McDonald, Bryzgalov, Pahlsson and Kunitz, all players under 30 who have played their whole, or atleast the majority of their careers in the Anaheim system.

Now back to my point about the Leafs. If you look at the moves this franchise has made, even going back decades in time, it is quite evident that there have been few, if any attempts to rebuild this team. Signing high priced free agents and trading draft picks for aging veterans is not rebuilding. Bringing in a 33 year old winger on a 5 year contract, and trading your first two draft picks for a 30 year old goaltender is not rebuilding. It is ok to add these type of pieces once you have established a strong young core, to put your team over the top, but the Leafs simply continue to add to a group of players who have never, and will never, bring them great success. In fact, as I look at the Leafs roster and prospects, I see zero, and i repeat zero players who will almost surely be first line caliber players 3 years from now, assuming Sundin retires by then. In comparison, again using the Ducks as an example, Getzlaf and Perry have showed enough to almost assure themselves top line duty as early as next season. Kunitz already skated on the top line this past season, and Bobby Ryan looks like a potential first liner as well. The Leafs are never able to add these types of players because all of their draft picks are used to obtain aging veterans year after year.

The fact is, no matter how terribly the Leafs perform, I highly doubt there will ever be concerns selling tickets. If the team performs poorly, while still showing commitment to adding good young talented players, true fans will understand and will withstand the rebuilding process in order to enjoy the payoff at the end. I look at a team like the L.A. Kings, and begin to envy their fans. They are the perfect definition of how to rebuild your team into a contender. Starting with the net out, the team has a great blue-chip goalie of the future in Jonathon Bernier, and has many great young pieces such as Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Patrick O'Sullivan, Mike Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle, Lauri Tukonen and Trevor Lewis. Realizing the potential of their team, GM Dean Lombardi used this off-season to add veterans to his great young core, players such as Handzus, Nagy, Preissing, Stuart and Calder.

There is a difference between adding veterans to a non-playoff team with little potential and expecting growth, and adding veterans to a core of potential stars. The Leafs management really needs to look at it's roster and realize that they own very little potential, and the best thing for the organization would be to stop paying for high priced veterans, stop trading away draft picks and start establishing a core of young players with promise for the future. Put away your wallet Ferguson, money doesn't bring happiness, especially when your idea of happiness is winning.
July 12, 2007 1:54 AM ET | Delete
You raise some very valid and interesting points, heusy. However, sadly as a Maple Leafs fan, I think the overriding criticism to be levied at Leafs management is that the club is geared toward short-term success at at least a competitive level rather than long-terms achievement at a championship level. If the analogy of Yankees to Leafs consists of glaring semantic differences then so should the comparison of the outlook presented in Anaheim versus Toronto. The Ducks layed the groundwork to build a Stanley Cup Championship squad with a long-term vision to help facilitate their conquest and it looks as though for another year us Leafs faithful will bear witness to the grand designs presented to keep the job of a struggling GM while saving the face of a ownership partner who continues to defend his own role in steering the organization toward the horizon of complacency in profit.
July 12, 2007 1:57 AM ET | Delete
Excellent evaluation of the situation in Toronto. Sadly, I don't see it changing anytime soon. The organization is built too much in a "win now" mentality, without taking the adequate steps to achieve that win, now. I do think, however, that the differences in marketplace may have something to do with it as well. There's no telling how Toronto would respond to a season or two of stinking up the ACC and stockpiling young stars, while Anaheim clearly handled it quite well.Good write-up, though.
July 12, 2007 1:57 AM ET | Delete
Excellent evaluation of the situation in Toronto. Sadly, I don't see it changing anytime soon. The organization is built too much in a "win now" mentality, without taking the adequate steps to achieve that win, now. I do think, however, that the differences in marketplace may have something to do with it as well. There's no telling how Toronto would respond to a season or two of stinking up the ACC and stockpiling young stars, while Anaheim clearly handled it quite well.Good write-up, though.
July 12, 2007 9:43 AM ET | Delete
As long as you hire a GM to a short term contract (less than 5 years) they will never budget / plan for long term success. If you were or I were offered an opportunity to make CEO salary for 5 years, we would take the risk of rebuilding cautiously and put up with the Media / Fan BS for a few years. After year 3 and 4, you would see the success's and when up for contract renewal after year 5 would have much more leverage regarding your own destiny. Now, I am not a supporter of rebuilding because that only works IF your are able to draft and obtain young talent. With the exception of Kaberle and one or two more late rounders, our depth in drafting has proven failure. The fans know it, the media knows it and more importantly the Leafs Mgmt know it. That is why you will see the Leafs this year and every other year try to add pieces to be competitive and never start from the bottom as all expansion teams who have either gone to the big dance and / or won it have done. Sure it may be the right thing but it will not happen in Torontq where its been so long waiting for success.
July 12, 2007 2:37 PM ET | Delete
Ok, nice read, heres a fact thoughthe '92 leafs, '93 leafs, '99 leafs, '01 leafs and '04 leafs were all LEGIT contenders. You start by saying they havent put a contender out in generations, yet theres 4 teams that were legit contenders in the last 15 years. On top of that the other years during Pat Quinn's era the leafs were also contenders but those are the years they were really close and really had a chance to win. When you start an article with non-sense it makes the rest of it hard to take seriously.
July 13, 2007 9:10 AM ET | Delete
Valid points all, but a few things that came to mind: I don't think the Leafs stink all that badly. Not to blame Raycroft (yes, he's got a weak glove hand, but his pad strength looked very good), but the addition of real goaltending to the Leafs will make a massive difference.I watched most games, and anecdotally, I only recall several games where even up until the end of the 3rd period the game was a lost cause. In fact, I think we were by far the better 5-on-5 team against nearly everyone (the Detroit or Nashville games comes to mind in which we weren't...).We've lost some scoring and skating (O'Neill), gained more scoring and skating (Blake), and I really hope we resign Peca -- just put him on the PK!I'd actually be hesitant to make very many changes. Sundin needed another genuine offensive threat on his line, atleast average goaltending, and some key players staying healthy more than not.With these pieces in place, I suspect that we will turn many OTLs into big Ws.
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