Vision and Execution


    During my monthly fantasy hockey segments on Sportstalk Weekends with Rick Quinton on CKNW in Vancouver the fantasy scene always spills into analysis of real world NHL. Last night, with the segment winding down, knowing I’m from Toronto, the ultra-smooth basso-voiced host asked the question seemingly plaguing Leafs Nation.

    Hey, B, where are the trades? Leafs Nation expected a roster overhaul with Brian Burke formally handed the keys to the franchise. So far, nothing.

    Early in his tenure any movement tempered trigger happy fans enthusiasm, indicating no immediate action due to a self-imposed trade freeze for December, believing players should have stability going into the holiday season. Chalk one up to stability. These small gestures make a big difference to players, not unnoticed in the hockey world.

    OK, then after the Christmas trade freeze was over.

    (**sounds of crickets**)

    OK then, the deadline … move all these pieces and the Leafs will start the restocking procedure and .. and … what? What’s the plan? What’s the vision?

    Offers Burke receives for his assets are admittingly terrible; the likelihood to get better may not happen in time for the trade deadline and that’s a fact fans must fathom as a reality. It comes from dealing from a position of weakness, just like the GM is in now.

    NHL GM’s aren’t going to give Toronto asking price for their assets should there not be a viable market. Even then, a cheaper acquisition could serve the purpose. The supply/demand line grays with murkiness and lowering of asking price becomes a possibility; and it shouldn’t. Burke must stand firm to his demands for his players.

    That’s the nature of dealing from a position of weakness. Statements about not approaching players with no-trade clauses and perhaps seeing Vesa Toskala back next season in the blue/white are foreshadows of a flat trade market.

    It would be a travesty to have GM’s make moves for the sake of trading players, and he has to show constraint, saying ‘NO’ should the situation garner such a response. I also believe that Toronto should walk into the draft in Montreal in June with something in their pockets. You don’t go to a draft empty-handed.

    It’s a difficult position to be in, but Burke has options, like hunting out other GM’s in similar positions of weakness.

    But first, a visionary interlude.


    It’s not enough to say that the Leafs should just ‘dump assets for picks and prospects’. There must be a specific vision ensuring transactions are made with the common goals. There must be milestones to measure improvement and points for evaluation.

    Vision is most important. Burke didn’t sell the concept of ‘rebuild by trading away assets’ to the Board of MLSE. He walked in with a viable plan in place, indicating specifics as best he could, laying out projections and timelines, obstacles and hindrances based on his experiences of the NHL. He was most vocal about the lack of tradability in the league and this still holds true. Creativity is most important.

    In his opening press conference, an item he mentioned that perked the antennae was how players for the Leafs will become more visible in the community. He mentioned it with the sense that players making an exorbitant amount of money from fans should give back to the community.

    Imagine the Board hearing that sentiment. They don’t hear the giving back to the community part, they see it as increasing the brand recognition, especially in the time where the Leafs could possibly face greater scrutiny to maintain their fan base. Promotions like the Coca Cola Zero free game and getting players involved with younger kids should keep them as fans as they age. It’s this kind of synergy created through management and owners when Burke was hired.

    Vision creates opportunity. The course of the rebuild is planned in steps, using its own momentum to perpetuate from a young inexperienced and budding club into consistent contender.

    The rebuilding is a process, a long one, but an expedited plan of attack could start in the same place that draws a parallel comparison to the current situation in Toronto.


    Hunted Becomes Hunter

    Fellow fantasy expert, TSN’s Scott Cullen provided this nugget, indicating the Flyers are willing to move Daniel Briere’s contract. Granted, he’s been hit this season with a nagging groin/abdominal tear, but who really cares if this deal solidifies another pick, while a player like Briere could come in and electrify season ticket holders (an item Burke mentions with regularity, the need to satisfy season’s ticket holders) and gives the Leafs a legitimate top-6 forward an obvious veteran presence vying for a first Stanley Cup when the Leafs are coming of age and for a low-low real dollar salary in the $2-3 million range by that time.

    Unlikely many teams would bite at taking on his contract, with six years and $34 million left on it. But the contract falls into the type, those of MLSE like, with fat up front payouts and a diminishing real dollar cost to the club. Briere will earn $8 million next season and $7 million for the following three seasons, before the real dollar amount drops to $3 million and then $2 million, but has a uniform $6.5 million cap hit (23rd in the NHL) and comparable to lower echelon stars. Despite an injury-plagued season, he could become a vital cog to the rebuilding club, not a member to build around, but a player that would contribute.

    Good GM’s don’t wait for markets. They don’t pin their hopes on players hitting the trade market with a high value; they go out and create a market for their assets. They play on other GM’s wants/needs, tug at their heart – and purse – strings, and force moves for their assets at an appropriate rate of return.

    Burke goes up to Philly, informs them the Leafs are willing to take the huge contract off their hands, along with the condition that a high round draft pick, comes along. Philly could have an interest in another asset on the Leafs roster that could be worked into the transaction to make it worthwhile for both clubs.

    Perhaps a package involving Vesa Toskala moving the other way would be an appropriate enough incentive for the Flyers, with both Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki both becoming unrestricted free agents come July 1st would be included and sweetening the package, but the issue of want/need could be worked out amongst GM’s.

    This may be a fantastical suggestion to come out of the Leafs camp, but the bottom line is good GM’s create their opportunities, they don’t wait to see what the market and other GM’s dictate. Using your vision, strike and set the market.

    You never win dealing from a position of weakness.

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    Gus Katsaros is the McKeen’s Hockey Director of Analytics & Pro Scouting and has been writing at MLHS since 2009.