Let’s face it. We’ve all knew it at the beginning of the season. The best bet for the Leafs was on us being a bubble team. That doesnâ€™t exactly say â€“ confidence. We knew coming in that we probably needed some things to click for us to make the show and when those things didnâ€™t click Leafs Nation got mad. But, letâ€™s run through that last sentence again. Things needed to click for us to make the postseason. That doesnâ€™t mean things WILL click and we WILL make the postseason.
Fact is, we werenâ€™t a good enough hockey club to make it, because in the end, we didnâ€™t make it. There was a lot of stuff missing so here’s my take on what Burke needs to do to make this team a competitive hockey club once again.
1. For the love of God, donâ€™t trade the first round draft pick
By tonight weâ€™ll know what pick the Leafs have, but one things is certain. That pick has a good chance of getting us an impact (possibly franchise) forward at a position that has been our biggest need from the day Burke first got the reigns of this hockey club. If you trade that pick, chances are, you canâ€™t get that potential in the value coming back. Sure, we can argue that proven value beats potential any day of the week and Iâ€™d agree. However, this is a cap world. Elite level talent moves teams once in a blue moon. Just the chance of picking a potential franchise player has to supersede getting immediate help, especially if the help has an future NTC and a big, long term contract (yes, Iâ€™m talking about Nash).
It’s important to note that this point says nothing about Kessel, who’s on this roster now and will be for theÂ foreseeable future. Kessel did what he needed to do. He improved and became a multidimensional player who finished the season posting career highs in multiple categories and top 6 in league scoring. You don’t trade a player like that, nor do you regret making a trade for him.
2. Improve the goaltending
Burke had chances to do it, he chose not to. He went into the season with two young goaltenders who, combined, played only 102 NHL games up to that point. He then had a chance to augment the goaltending at the deadline, he chose not to. Not saying he should have gone after Bishop, just saying Ottawa got a young, quality goaltender for a second round pick.
By now, itâ€™s pretty much clear that this experiment failed so Burke can do one of two things. Bring in a veteran goaltender who can take the No1 job if need be (Biron, Harding etc.) or he can go after a young, talented netminder with proven potential (Schneider, Bernier). Keep in mind that the second option wouldnâ€™t come cheap.
3. If you do trade for Nash (insert any impact player), do so by dealing roster players (Kadri included), otherwise, donâ€™t trade for Nash (impact player)
Letâ€™s make one thing perfectly clear. Kadri has a chance of becoming a very good NHL player. Will he ever be a franchise player? Probably not. Assuming way to much here, but if I had to choose between giving up a first rounder in this yearâ€™s draft or one or both of Kadri/Schenn to get that elite talent with size up front Iâ€™d choose to give up those two.
Also, if Parise stays on the market (doubtful) and youâ€™re seriously considering going after him, be prepared to offer a big money, long term deal. If you wonâ€™t, there are plenty of teams that will. And even that might not get it done.
4. Bring in veteran leadership
I donâ€™t care if you call it a truck going off a cliff or other similar comparisons/parallels you might make. You canâ€™t continue to make excuses like â€œIf you look at our team to/from one point, we were actually a good hockey team.â€ No, you were not. If you canâ€™t do it whole season long, for an entire 82 games stretch, you arenâ€™t a good team. Dion might or might not be a good captain, but what is obvious is that our room needs a player or two who can help out with the load. Veterans can show younger players how to get out of a funk, help them cope with losses and slides and steer that truck away from the ledge. We didnâ€™t have it this year, or the year before that so letâ€™s make sure we donâ€™t make the same mistake next season.
By not trading for that help (which wouldnâ€™t cost him a pretty penny, even if the prices were inflated) he basically said: â€œI believe in this group.â€ Once again, it was his mistake. Hindsight is a wonderful thing I know, but I also know GMs get fired because of it.
This isnâ€™t a â€œFire Burkeâ€ article, if anything itâ€™s a â€œGive Burke More Timeâ€ article. However, at some point, filling the cupboard and trade market splashes (Phaneuf) have to translate into on ice success and good overall management of our hockey team.
PS there is a reason behind why I wanted this out prior to Burkeâ€™s state of the union press conference. I donâ€™t want to hear excuses, I just want the aforementioned things done. Also, liking someone or supporting him doesn’t mean he’s beyond anyÂ criticism.