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.
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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.
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