This blog is to dissect the many moves, trades, free agent signings, and now current roster that is presented to us by the Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. I will do a series of blogs looking at a multitude of subjects from the inherited Leafs, the turnover, the forwards, the D, and the goalies.
First, to truly understand how this current of the Leafs was built, I want to take a look back at the team before Burke inherited it.
As we all know, and are constantly reminded of by opposing teams fans, the Leafs have failed to make the post season since the lockout in 2005. During their ultimate collapse, it was easy for almost any fan to point their finger at the GM John Ferguson Junior, and blame the ultimate demise of this once great franchise on the person in charge. A long list of blundered trades and patch work signings kept the team struggling to keep pace in the Eastern Conference, and ultimately left the cupboard bare of any prospects. Although JFJ was the face of the blame, many media experts and insiders talked about the constant involvement of Richard Peddie, MLSE’s CEO, as it was widely believed that Peddie was the driving factor behind JFJ’s absurd mentality to make the playoffs now while expensing the future. This mentality would coincide with the wide held belief that MLSE was only interested in profits and continued to run the Leafs as a business as opposed to a sports franchise. Looking at the situation now, it would be interesting to know if Peddie knew about the impending sale of the Teacher’s Pension Plan’s stake in MLSE and was attempting to bolster its worth by adding playoff revenue to the shareholders sale, but that would be a whole other topic to tackle in another blog.
The 07/08 Leafs finished 11 points out of the playoffs and captured the lonely spot of 12th in the Eastern Conference. It was easy to see that the Leafs were heading towards missing the playoffs again and MLSE couldn’t handle it any longer. JFJ was fired and former Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher was given the reigns as interim GM. Upon this announcement, the silver fox was given the power to clear the roster, and hopefully pull off some magic again, like he did in the past when he traded with Calgary to bring in Doug Gilmour, and when he traded with Quebec to bring in Sundin.
Just a side note, when the silver fox was given the reigns, many insiders already knew that the Leafs had interest in Brian Burke as their next choice, and they were waiting for Burke to finish his contract with Anaheim before making it official.
Fletcher’s hands were ultimately tied, this time not by Peddie, but by the No Trade Clauses given out by JFJ to a few players that became known as “the Muskoka Five”; Sundin, Tucker, Kaberle, Kubina, and McCabe. Attempting to break them up and get them to waive their NTC’s would have greatly benefited the Leafs in their rebuild, but they refused to waive, and the pressure to have them leave may have ultimately lead to the decision of team captain, Mats Sundin, to not resign in Toronto.
The season came with the stark realization to fans that the team would be heading in a different direction. The season still began with Fletcher as the GM, but with Sundin gone, there was a void in Leafs Nation. Fletcher also made a few odd decisions in the offseason which had various reactions from both the media and the fans including the bizarre contract to Jeff Finger, the trade for Mikhail Grabovski, the buyout of Darcy Tucker, and the acquisition of Ryan Hollweg.
This lead to the starting Leafs roster of
Antropov – Stajan – Ponikarovsky
Blake – D. Moore – Hagman
Kulemin – Grabovski – Steen
Hollweg – J.Mitchell – J.Mayers
At the beginning of the season, people actually believed that this lineup had a chance to get the Leafs to the playoffs, although that can be attributed to delusional fandom which results in inexplicable hope. Although the media didn’t really buy in, some fans believed the idea that Stajan was being groomed as the new captain, that Blake could score 30 goals, that Hagman’s flashy speed and wrist shot would pot 25-30 goals and that Hollweg and Mayers would provide the added toughness to ensure the Leafs were a force to be reckoned with. October looked ok with a 4-3-3 record, but it was in November that the Leafs fell apart. A dismal 4-6-3 record lead GM Fletcher to trade Steen and Coliacovo to St Louis for former 27 goal scorer Lee Stempniak. And there you have it. That would be Fletcher’s last move as GM before Brian Burke was officially announced as the newest GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For space, I’m only going to take a look at what was the Leafs top six from this time.
Leafs – 1C Now – healthy scratch
Looking at where these players are now, it’s easy to see why the Leafs failed. Since his departure, Stajan has only scored 17 goals in 164 games. Not exactly a first line centre by today’s NHL standards. Stajan’s inconsistency has resulted in him being a healthy scratch for long stretches in Calgary. Although signing a multiyear deal, Stajan will most likely find his role greatly reduced to a 3rd line centre role in his future and his pay check will most likely decline.
Leafs – 1W Now – 2/3rd line W
Poni has had varying degrees of success and his inability to play the physical game has left him with varying degrees of success. Playing for 5 different teams since the beginning of the 09/10 season, Poni has only found the back of the net 40 times in 3 years for an average of 13 goals per season. This is highly indicative that Poni was not, and is not, a 1st line winger in the NHL.
Leafs – 1W Now – 2/3rd liner
Antropov has easily been the best of the Leafs top 6 since leaving. Being moved from W to C, Antropov had a breakout year hitting a career high of 67 points in 76 games in his first season with the Atlanta Thrashers. Although he hasn’t kept up that pace, he’s still a reliable 40 points and should be able to be productive in a third line role.
Leafs – 2W Now – unsigned
How the mighty have fallen. After surprising everyone with 40 goals in a season, JFJ quickly signed Jason Blake to 5 year deal worth $20M. Although looking like a great deal in today’s high cap world, it was expensive risk back then for Blake who had averaged 17 goals/season in his previous 5 NHL seasons. Blake would go on to frustrate Leafs fans as he racked up his shot totals from bizarre angles along the boards, never fighting for the dirty areas in front of the net. The fact that he is not signed to a professional contract says enough about why he should not have been in the top six.
Leafs – 2C Now – unsigned
In all fairness, the Leafs tried to offer Moore a fair contract before the trade deadline, and he refused to sign a $2M contract with Burke, as Moore and his agent were convinced he would receive more during free agency. He was wrong. Although playing as the second line centre on the Leafs, Moore has been relegated to 3rd line, and even 4th line minutes. This is reflected in the pay that he has received, averaging $1M/season.
Leafs – 2W Now – KHL
After scoring 42 goals in 120 games with the Leafs, Hagman never found his groove in the NHL with other teams. In his second year in Calgary, he was claimed on re-entry waivers where he was given a chance to succeed in Anaheim. With only 8 goals in 63 games, Hagman was left with no NHL offers and quickly signed to play in the KHL.
So there you have the first installment of my blog. Of the top six that Brian Burke inherited, three are not in the NHL, 1 has been a healthy scratch, and the other two are third liners that get second line duties when there are injuries.