I heard a caller on the radio this afternoon talk about the effect that the Phil Kessel trade has had and will make on the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was a proponent of the Phil Kessel trade but I didn't think Brian Burke needed to give up 2 first round picks to do it since he essentially had Chiarelli cornered with the threat of the offer sheet (I know Burke lashed out at Kevin Lowe for the Dustin Penner offer sheet, but the biggest issue he had with Lowe was that he didn’t approach him first about a deal, he felt blind sided). The caller this afternoon made what I thought to be a great point, he essentially said that if Burke didn't make the Kessel trade, some of the other deals he made later in the year probably would not have happened since the Leafs would essentially have been tanking the season and playing for Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. So to judge Burke solely on the Kessel trade would not be fair. You need to look at his whole body of work and I absolutely agree with him. Thus, the Leafs most likely would not have made the Phaneuf or Giguere trades, which essentially brought the Leafs their young captain and also ridded them of bad contracts (Blake, and essentially Stajan, and White).
When the Leaf organization was searching for a GM, they talked about bringing in a superstar, one of the top executives in the league to run the franchise. They put together a search committee and this led to the hiring of Brian Burke. I was in no way a fan of Burke when he was hired, but he has begun to turn me around. Burke has not been rebuilding the Leafs in a traditional fashion and I am in full support of his approach. Being bad and tanking for years and years is no guarantee for success. Look at teams like the Atlanta Thrashers, NY Islanders, Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, etc. (Columbus has drafted in the top 10 for 10 of their 11 seasons in the NHL). Sure people will point to teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago but they never consider the opposite side of the spectrum. Those teams were fortunate to draft superstar players with their top picks. Players like Crosby, Malkin, Toews, and Kane are not available in every draft.
With the Leafs being void of any high end NHL prospects, Burke has begun to build a young core group of players through the draft and free agency in less than 2 years. Not including Kessel, Burke has added Dion Phaneuf, Kris Versteeg, Mike Komisarek, Jonas Gustavsson, Tyler Bozak, and Colby Armstrong. All of these players are 28 or younger and with Kessel will form the core of this Maple Leaf team for the next 5 years. To get these players I would argue that he has only given up one impact or potential impact player, Viktor Stahlberg. Are the Leafs a Stanley cup contender right now? I doubt it. But I think they are a lot closer than people give them credit for. This team should be expecting a playoff spot this year and if their young core takes the leap from potential to performance they should have no problem doing so.
When Brian Burke was brought here, he was brought to win a Stanley Cup. That is what every fan and organization dreams about. My expectation was a little different. I don’t want this team to follow the path of Tampa or Carolina, winning the cup and then falling off the map. I want Burke to build a team that is a cup contender year in and year out, and if they win a Cup along the way, that would be the cherry on top.