Plenty of blame to go around for Maple Leafs

Plenty of blame to go around for Maple Leafs

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While Brian Burke deserves much of the blame for the recent woes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s also fair to point out that he didn’t exactly inherit a powerhouse.  The Leafs roster was in terrible shape when the big Irishman accepted the unsavory role of Maple Leafs president and general manager.

Unfair expectations were placed on this current regime and miracles were expected overnight as he was quickly dubbed the ‘saviour of the franchise’.  Unfortunately, in the new cap-era NHL, a quick fix is nearly impossible and instead patience, money management and shrewd decision making is even more imperative.

Is the “Fire Burkie” rhetoric that has been spewed from Leafs Nation coast-to-coast justified?

This piece is not meant as a defence of the Burke regime but to simply look at how we got to this point in the first place.  Anybody else get frustrated seeing the Philadelphia Flyers remain competitive season in and season out?  This past offseason they just traded their captain Mike Richards and top goal scoring threat Jeff Carter and haven’t missed a beat.

Well the fact is it is easy to make bold trades and transactions when you have the assets to do so.  The Flyers drafted Jeff Carter 11th and Mike Richards 24th overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft and have continued to unearth top talent in the draft ever since.

With that I wanted to look at why I feel is a deeper problem for the Leafs, the continued lack of success in the drafts.  First, it is very easy to second guess with the powerful tool of hindsight but the overall point remains – the Leafs have been lacklustre in the drafting and development game for too long.

I thought I would go back starting in 2006 to see exactly why the Leafs roster is lacking the home grown top notch talent.

Looking at the 2006 and 2007 draft was a painful reminder of the sometimes forgotten John Ferguson era in Maple Leafs history.  In 2006 the Leafs drafted 13th overall and selected Jiri Tlusty – ahead of other first round players like Michael Grabner, Patrick Berglund and some guy named Claude Giroux.  Heck even Nick Foligno would at least be good for a cheap low-bridge hit from time to time.

The next year was an even worse as the team was without both its 2007 first and second round picks thanks to some goaltender named Vesa Toskala – who is this legend they speak of?  Our first pick in that infamous draft was a guy known more for this mustache than hockey skills, Dale Mitchell.

The Leafs played poorly the next season but were unable to tank properly and instead ended up with the 5th overall selection in the 2008 Steven Stamkos draft.  Drafting a defenseman was probably the right decision but picking Luke Schenn is debatable looking at some of the names chosen after him.

Look at this list – Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers, Jake Gardiner, Michael Del Zotto, Jordan Eberle and some Norris trophy candidate Erik Karlsson.

It’s not quite like getting stuck with Darko Milicic when the teams around you get Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade, but not getting a shot at Stamkos and missing out on a Myers, Hodgson and Karlsson stings.

I’d have to throw Luke a bone here and say he has gotten a bit of a raw deal in Toronto and was most definitely rushed to the league.  It is apparent he didn’t exactly bond with our former head coach and getting the most from him going forward has to be priority number one for Randy Carlyle.

The 2009 draft saw the Leafs select Nazem Kadri and while the clip of Brian Burke ripping out Bryan Murray’s heart prior to selecting him is priceless, the jury is still out not only on Kadri but a number of prospects from that draft.

We shall only discuss 2010 very briefly, as this was of course the year Toronto gave up its first two picks for goal scorer extraordinaire Phil Kessel.  Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight were selected by the Boston Bruins.  I don’t know about you but landing potentially one of the best goal scorers (Kessel) in franchise history will normally cost a pretty penny.

That’s a very brief and simplistic look at how the Leafs got to where we are today and one can only hope that going forward the Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy’s of the world turn into big time contributors, or at the very least trade assets.  I think it is fair to say the Leafs prospect system is in better shape under Brian Burke but reaping any rewards of that talent is normally a slow process in hockey.

Saying that, one would assume Brian Burke is on a short leash with the ultimate decision makers within the Leafs organization.  Leafs fans should hope there are no short sighted moves coming this offseason that could further jeopardize the future.

The Leafs need an influx of quality, cheap young talent from their farm system and the team needs to have more success in the draft.  Not to throw a guy under the bus but I am surprised scouting head honcho Dave Morrison has held onto his job as long as he has.  Rightly or wrongly, heads normally roll with the relative lack of early round success in the draft.

In closing, I do not envy Brian Burke right now.

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