As March nears it's end, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a familiar spot in the standings; near the bottom. The Leafs, who haven't made the playoffs since before the lockout, have been floundering in recent years, and seem no closer to postseason success now then they did at this time last year, or even two years ago. The one difference between this year and the last few years, is that this year the Leafs are joined in the cellar by their hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens. After floating around the 6th to 8th spot in the East for the last few years, the bottom finally fell out on the Habs in stunning fashion, with this season claiming their coach, GM, and several players as victims. So what now? Where do these two once proud franchises go now?
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Well, in my opinion, the smart thing would be for things to get worse, not better. It's time to blow up both these teams and start over. Now, granted, that doesn't mean trade everyone, as both teams have some good young pieces that the could build with, but take a glance at the roster of either the Habs or Leafs and you will see that neither of them has the pieces that they should build around. Leafs fans will obviously argue that Kessel is that player, and Habs fans will argue that Price is a goalie around which you can build, and they might be right if you are simply trying to make the playoffs every year, but not to compete for the Cup. Looking back on the last couple of Stanley Cup Finals teams, it is obvious that in order to compete for hockey's ultimate prize you need multiple legitimate superstar. The Canucks had the Sedins, the Bruins had Chara and Thomas, the Blackhawks had Toews, Kane and Keith, the Flyers had Richards and Pronger, etc. These are all players that can put their teams on their backs and drag them all the way through the playoffs. Even if we took a look at the NHL today, the only legitimate Cup contender that doesn't have any bonafide superstars are the St. Louis Blues, and while they are absolutely tearing it up in the regular season, I still believe that this lack of star power will come back to bite them in the playoffs.
There are only three real ways for teams to acquire stars in todays NHL:
1. You can draft well and get lucky, like the Red Wings did with Datsyuk and Zetterberg
2. You can buy talent, like the Rangers and Devils have tried to do, with Gaborik, Richard, and Kovalchuk.
3. You can suck for an extended period of time, and rack up several top picks, like the Capitals, Penguins, and Blackhawks have all done perfectly.
The first approach is difficult and risky, the second approach is almost impossible for Canadian teams, especially ones in pressure filled cities like Montreal and Toronto, and that only leaves the third option. Both the Habs and Leafs have gotten away with being mediocre for so long, because even mediocrity still ensures sell-outs every night in Toronto and Montreal, but it's gotten to the point where the fans deserve better. While sucking for a few years might be a difficult thing for these fans to bear, it will undoubtedly work out better for them in the long run. It is time for the Habs and Leafs to ship out everyone that they do not feel will still be with the team in 3ish years, stock up and draft picks and prospects, and play the waiting game. While the high picks that both teams will get this year will help, they are not the whole answer to problem. Once both teams get a few more picks just like them, then they will finally be ready to contend.
Honestly, what is scarier: Subban, Price, Pacioretty and a bunch of overpriced veterans, or Subban, Price, Pacioretty, Forsberg, and a couple other top notch prospects?
Thats that I thought...
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