Leafs Can Right Previous Wrongs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a grand opportunity in the next few weeks to start righting some of the wrongs they’ve displayed the last several years.

The team practically has a blank canvas to begin retooling and reshaping the entire organization. In fact they can start taking small steps to correcting decades of mismanagement, misguided direction and futility by making some key moves in the next few weeks and months.

Its going to take time and patience on everyone’s part, from ownership, to management, to the coaching staff and even from the fans in order to see something good over the next little while.

Five years out of the playoffs and 42 years of losing however has led to patience being worn thin. But in very short order, the team can start the process of doing what it takes to build a successful franchise.

It all starts at the draft. This is something the Leafs have not done very well. They’ve frittered away picks, they’ve made poor selections, they’ve rushed players too soon to the NHL only to ruin them as players.

The team is starting to get a bit better. There are 11 draft picks who have been semi-regulars this season for the blue and white.

1996 – Tomas Kaberle
1998 – Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky
2002 – Matt Stajan, Ian White
2003 – Jeremy Williams, John Mitchell
2005 – Anton Stralman
2006 – Jiri Tlusty, Nikolai Kulemin
2008 – Luke Schenn

Schenn so far is their key building block for the future. Long time Leafs Kaberle, Antropov and Ponikarovsky are the players expected to be moved in the near future, hopefully bringing in what the team sorely needs: more draft picks and prospects.

Years of going for the quick fix, trying to win in the short term has cost them dearly. Combining this with poor cap management and wasting away assets has left the team in the state they are right now.

Its forced them to try and fill holes via free agency: Jeff Finger, Nik Hagman, Jason Blake, Jonas Frogren, Dominic Moore (waivers), Pavel Kubina, Curtis Joseph have like many of their predecessors come outside the organization to be key cogs. The likes of Kubina, Blake, Finger came with a big cost and many are still wonder for what reason?

The team only has 2 of their last 11 first round picks on the roster. Sure, the team has had success in later rounds, but even that continued expectation is questionable considering they’ve moved picks out like hot cakes.

The team moved a 3rd, 5th and 6th pick for Jamal Mayers, Ryan Hollweg and Brad May. These 3 players are of the same ilk. If they get it wrong the 1st time, maybe that’s acceptable. But to do the same thing 3 times over is excessive. Chronically making the same mistakes over and over will be unacceptable going forward.

The team also included a 4th in 2010 so that the Panthers would take Bryan Mccabe off their hands getting Mike Van Ryn in return and moved their 2nd rounder in that draft to get Mikail Grabovski. These moves would be ok, if the team wasn’t rebuilding and could afford to do this. And it would be ok if their draft record wasnt so atrocious. The saving grace is at least Grabovski is a young player with potential.

But much of the focus has been what the team has done with their 1st rounders.

1995 and 1999 – Jeff Ware and Luca Cereda were major busts

1997 – The infamous Roberto Luongo pick that the Leafs traded with a then young Kenny Jonsson to Long Island for Mathieu Schnieder and Wendel Clark. (The Leafs at least have one player to show for this deal, one more than the Isles. The Leafs moved Schneider for Alex Karpovtsev who later was moved for Mccabe who of course was traded for Van Ryn)

2000 and 2003 – The Leafs have nothing to show for the Owen Nolan trade that cost them Brad Boyes and their first in 03 which turned into Steve Bernier for the Sharks.

2001 and 2002 – There is still a ways to go before a final verdict can be placed on the deal that sent Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen for Lee Stempniak. But suffice to say the team once again mismanaged assets here either by keeping them around too long, or not getting more or more of what they needed.

2004 – This pick went in the Brian Leetch trade that turned out to be Lauri Korpikoski. Leetch played a grand total of 28 games.

2005 – Perhaps the deal that defined John Ferguson’s ineptness. Ferguson traded Tukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft lasted a year before he was replaced while Rask is a top goalie prospect.

2007 – To further the point of Ferguson’s stupidity, he traded the 1st and 2nd picks in this draft for Vesa Toskala to make up for his mistake in getting Raycroft. Toskala has struggled while Logan Couture is the best prospect on the NHL’s best team.

Really, any of the Leaf picks still active were practically given away.
-Adam Mair (97) and a 2nd (Mike Cammellari) went for Aki Berg
-Fred Modin (94) went for Cory Cross
-They Leafs have little to show for Shawn Thornton (97), Brendan Bell (01), Mikael Tellqvist (00) and Kyle Wellwood (01)

Hopefully now the pain has ended and a new era starts with a focus on the draft.

Top Rookies/Prospects:

Luke Schenn – The big debate has been whether Schenn should have stayed or been returned to junior. He has certainly not looked out of place in the NHL and is one of the rookie leaders in minutes played. He is their one cornerstone player so far. A strong case can be made that he should have returned to junior to hon his offensive game.

Jiri Tlusty – He has yet to score this season and his inconsistency and lack of production is a concern. But he is still young and the kind of player the team needs to be patient with, not throw out with yesterday’s trash. There is potential with his speed and skillset.

Nikolai Kulemin – He started well, but has faded since. The adjustment to North America has taken a bit longer than expected but there isnt any doubt about his abilities. He has a great shot, a quick release and good hockey sense. He seriously needs though a big time offensive player to play with to maximize his talents.

Justin Pogge – He has had a couple of cups of coffee with the team with varying results. Time. Thats what Pogge needs. He was fed to the wolves in his last game and hopefully thats something he can learn from. They’ve been pretty patient with this kid and they need to be if they hope he is the future in goal for the Leafs.

Anton Stralman
– Stralman has regressed after a decent debut last year. He has lacked confidence it seems and needs to get it back soon if he wishes to be part of the team’s plans. Who knows if he is as he does not appear to have the kind of makeup that fits a Brian Burke run team.

Others: Jimmy Hayes, Jamie Sifers, Chris Didomenico

Clearly the cupboard is bare. But that can change with a strong few months of roster shuffling.

Its a cast of thousands it seems on who will be available from the Leaf roster. Really only Schenn carries the tag of untouchable.

Who they move, who they can move and what they bring back is still up in the air. But if the Leafs can move their more prominent names available, they can certainly get something of value.

Its possible they could target upcoming free agents like Mike Cammellari or Jay Bouwmeester as rumours have suggested. But there isnt anything more valuable, especially in a cap world, than building your own cache of assets from within.

Some possibilities:

Antropov to Chicago for 1st round pick in 09, 2nd in 2010, Brent Sopel

The Hawks are looking to round out their top 9 forwards and add some size up fro
nt. They lack cap space, but, if they can get Toronto to take on Sopel and his contract that has 2 years, 2.3 mil per left, they could add a good player without removing a top forward like Havlat, one of their goalies or a top prospect. The Leafs get a 2nd 1st round pick plus replenish the 2nd lost in the Grabovski trade.

Alexei Ponikarovsky to Vancouver for 2nd round pick in 09, a 3rd in 2010

Pony adds another big forward with some offensive ability. His attraction is size, but also as someone familiar to Mats Sundin. They shared good chemistry as teammates and he would add good depth to the team. He is signed for another year and that would cover off Pyatt who is a pending UFA. The extra pick is not a grand price for someone under contract, making just 2 mil and a 20 goal scorer.

Pavel Kubina to Jersey for 2nd and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

A missing piece to the surging Devils squad is another big minute blueliner. He offers a RH shot which the Devils do not have on D and a big shooter for the PP. He has cup experience and historically been a good teammate. The Leafs again get a pick but also add a big body in Leblond who is young, can skate and play physical. A Burke type player.

Lee Stempniak for Joffrey Lupul

This is all about cap relief for the Flyers. Stempniak is a 1.9 mil cap hit and has 1 yr left on his deal. Lupul is currently 2.9 but jumps to 4.5 the next 4 years. The Leafs have the cap room to do this, plus, he is a player Burke is quite familiar with from Anaheim. Points wise, Lupul has 4 more points so far this season so the dropoff isnt drastic. Briere is coming back at some point, they’re going to need room to sign a goalie for next year and could use any relief they can get to improve their team.

These series of moves provides help now, but moreso in the future. It also leaves the door open for the team to hold on to their most prized trade asset, Tomas Kaberle, until the right deal comes along. His age, status, skill level, contract, Kaberle is worth quite a bit and the Leafs can wait for a king’s ransom for him. Or they could keep him altogether. A win-win situation.

The right track for the Leafs is to be patient and build a strong foundation. The Habs are doing it, so are the Caps, Hawks, Coyotes, Sharks and Bruins. They’ve done so via the draft, allowing them the assets to acquire big pieces through trade, or supplement their talented picks via free agency.

Its a no brainer for the Leafs to go this route. They’ve seemingly tried everything else with no success. Its time for this organization to carve a new path and the time may be now to start paving the way to a stronger future.

26 Responses to Leafs Can Right Previous Wrongs

  1. blaze says:

    I think outside of Schenn, Tlusty is the Leafs most interesting prospect.  Kulemin seems more likely to hit his potential but Tlusty is the only prospect that has first line potential.

    He might never amount to much but I would give Tlusty all sorts of time, I could definately see him mature into a 30 maybe even 40 goal sniper.

  2. broc says:

    Really, cuz I can't see Tlusty as anything more than a decent second liner. It's early still, but so far this guy is a bust for where the Leafs picked him.

    Where do you see 40 goal potential in Jiri frickin Tlusty? Burke should package him off for a better prospect or pick. He's never really been good ANYwhere..

  3. mojo19 says:

    Stempniak is only a $1.9 million cap hit for the leafs this year because they picked him up in November. His actual cap hit is $2.5 million (average of his three year deal @ $1.5 last year, $2.5 this year, and $3.5 next year)

    Joffrey Lupul's cap hit salary next year is $2.9 million but his cap hit is $2.3 (cap hits are made up of the average of the players salary from each year of his deal).

    So the Flyers would pick up a $600k cap hit for next season as well as $600k in actual salary to pay.

    I just don't see this deal being made at all. Makes no sense for Philly.

  4. the_word says:

    'here is still a ways to go before a final verdict can be placed on the deal that sent Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen for Lee Stempniak. But suffice to say the team once again mismanaged assets here either by keeping them around too long, or not getting more or more of what they needed.'

    🙂 Just so everyone knows, I'm never going shutup about this, I'll take this as validation.

    Good article, digging this series of nostagalic reflection on teams drafting history. I'd just like to ask did the Leafs trade away Camalleri or the 2nd round pick that became Cammalleri, because there is a world of difference. For instance, the Leafs were set in goal (or at least willing to buy the best available in each UFA pool, I miss the old LNH) when they traded the pick that turned into Luongo so who knows if they would have picked him and lets be honest he would have been traded befor the play a game as a Leaf had he been drafted.

  5. Kramer says:

    Pogge needs to drink more coffee before the game. To me he looked too relaxed in Tuesdays game.  Coffee keeps you wired and you can concentrate better.

    Domink Hasek is proof.  In the early 90s, Hasek was a deadbeat. Then suddenly he was introduced to coffee before the game. Bingo!  He started flipping and flopping all over the place and making save after save. His career took off and it was from the coffee. All the smart goalies have been doing it ever since.

  6. nordiques100 says:

    I guess it was more putting home the point that trading away picks like it was garbage can be disasterous. It was really draft schmaft in Toronto. Losing that pick that ended up as Cammellari is atypical of toronto. They neglected at all costs doing it within and it cost them a chance at getting someone in the draft who could have come through the system and been a productive player for them from the beginning of his career rather than as say a 34 year old late blooming free agent, or a past their prime local product, returning to his roots, or whatever.

    It didnt have to be Cammellari either. It could have been Pominville or McClement or Paetsch or Budaj or Plekanec. The point is opporutnity lost. once in a while ok, 10 times over is foolish. i mean just look at that Perreault trade which again they moved a 2nd. Its always the same story with this team unfortunately.

  7. nordiques100 says:

    It was more this year and next year in combination that would have worth for the Flyers.

    They save 2 mil next season and they're going to need it as they are already way up there in the cap.

    But thanks for pointing out my mistakes only and not appreciating my hard work 🙂

  8. nordiques100 says:

    and mojo i am just joking. i am just jealous you were right about the B's 🙂

    bruins sharks final with thornton winning the Conn

  9. Kramer says:

    Why is everybody panicking? If the Leafs win their last 34 games, they're gonna finish with 110 points. More than enough to make the playoffs.

    Burke needs to make at least 3 big trades if he wants home ice in the first round.

  10. cam7777 says:

    he's 20…many prospects aren't even in the league at his age.

  11. cam7777 says:

    Lupul's cap hit next year is 4.25 million; that's when his extension begins.  It's still money saving for the Flyers, but I'd rather go after Hartnell.

  12. UWSensFan says:

    As you pointed out in a previous reply, the "Draft schmaft" attitude that Toronto had for the longest time is what really did them in.  Then again, they could not have predicted that the salary cap would come into play, and they'd have one of the worst GMs in the league to manage a cap-era team.  I can think of only 1 GM with a worse history than the Leafs GMs of the past decade (if considering only their draft attitude): "Mad" Mike Millbury.

    The fact is, the Leafs were a competitive team under Quinn.  They were competitive because they were allowed to outspend any team in the league, so long as they made the playoffs to get the gravy for the Teacher's Pension.  The problem is that they just never had the right combination of players at once.  While this could have been solved by smart(er) drafting, it could also have been solved with smarter signings/trades.  All in all, it's about time the Leafs management accept that the new NHL isn't about signing every top end UFA that wants to play in their spotlight.

  13. nordiques100 says:

    But when a lockout was inevitable, why did ferguson re-sign niewendyk, roberts and klee. bring back berg and re-sign belfour to a massive 3 year 18 mil deal?

    there may have been some doubt as to what the CBA would look like, but we knew it wasnt going to be the same where the leafs could spend carte blanche.

    that stupidity set the wheels in motion the major downward spiral for this team.

    throw in the hideous trading away of picks and you have the recipe for disaster.

    but this all comes back to the pressure put on by the media and fans.

    we want the leafs to rebuild, but at the same time we want them to win now at all costs. this is why you see 6 free agent signings, 8 first rounders and 2 trades for superstars in every thread going to the leafs.

    we need picks in a bad way, but you can sure bet we will find a way to justify trading them away yet again to pick up say horton and bouwmeester because they're still young.

    they think that's the same thing as picking your own players, but i guess better because tehy're ready while picks are unproven commodities.

    what a joke. this is why the leafs are what they are. and unfortunately i have this feeling they wont do it right because we are sick of missing the playoffs.

    get your own, bring them along slowly, your way and build success within.

    say what you want about the devils and their trap crap that apparently is the only reason they are successful. but they drafted really well and their teams were usually built around their home grown stars. and they brought them along their way to fit into devils hockey. thats why they have 3 cups.

    what do the leafs have?

  14. blaze says:

    Did anyone see 40 goal potential for Brad Boyes?

  15. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    My Leafs Plan:

    Trade Deadline:

    Antropov to Rangers for Del Zotto and a 3rd round pick
    Rationale: the kids a few years away, and the rangers window is now

    Mayers to Pittsburgh for a 4th
    Pens need warm bodies up front, if its not Mayers there will be a few trades of this nature with other teams

    Cujo, Hollweg, May for anything you can get (7th rounder?)

    Jason Blake (on pace for 25 goals) to Atlanta for a 3rd round pick
    Kubina to Dallas for their 1st (I'm assuming Dallas made the playoffs, which it looks like they will)

    Draft now has 2 1sts, 0 2nds, 3 3rds, 2 4ths…something to work with

    Before July 1:

    Moore 2 years 1.5 mil per
    Deveaux 2 years minimum salary 2 way
    Newbury 2 years minimum salary 2 way
    Williams 2 years 1.0 mil per
    Pogge 2 years 850K

    After July 1:
    Let Grabovski go for an offer sheet (if its above 2.6 mil, which it likely will be, the leafs get a 1st and a 3rd)
    Sign Parros 2 years 1 mil per
    Sign Derek Armstrong 1 year 1 mil
    Sign marchant 1 year 1 mil

    1st options(take a run, but probably fail)
    Sign Komisarek 4 years 4.5 mil per (or Ohlund)
    Sign Cammalleri for 4 years at 5 mil per
    Sign Antropov for 3 years at 4 mil per

    2nd options(if firts ones fail)
    Sign Spacek for 1 year at 3 mil
    Sign Connoly for 1 year at 4 mil
    Sign Knuble for 1 year at 4 mil

    Team(assuming 2nd options are used)


    Schenn-Van Ryn
    (Stralman, Sifers)


    Cap hit: Around 46 mil(including past buyouts)

    Some key notes:

    the team is kind of injury prone, but the stralmans and tlustys of the world are in the marlies and can jump in at any time. the team is tough, the team has role players, but most of all the team takes RISKS on guys like connoly, Stepniak, and Toskala on a contract year. A boom here or there could fetch the leafs a fair package at the next deadline.

  16. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    I wouldn't say that, the guys picked after him haven't been spectacular (and a bunch before him) and he was drafted 2 years ago. His niche will be the center who scores the pretty goals around the slot. Those guys tend to have big upsides, but 40 is way to high. the "range"of a players ability occurs when they break out…we'll have to wait and see

  17. UWSensFan says:

    Oh, I agree JFJ buggered up big time when the lockout was eminent.  I'm not disputing this (actually, one of the reasons I said he was the 2nd worst GM I could think of).

    I also think we can both agree that the decisions of Leafs management in the last amount of time (well, at least as far as I can remember) to dismiss the draft was not smart.

    As a Sens fan, it has been pretty miserable to not be able to face the Leafs in the playoffs since the lockout ended for two reasons:
    – Finally dispel the "The Leafs have the Sens number in the playoffs" stigma (mostly because the teams that beat the Sens will never exist again in TO)
    – It sucks to boo a team that is only really good against your team…I miss the rivalries we used to have where you really didn't know who was going to win games (well, this season is different because we're both sucking hard)

    To answer your question, unfortunately, not all that much (besides Kaberle and Schenn).  I'm just surprised there are people wanting to trade Kaberle.  He'd be a great person to train your up and coming D-men.

  18. blaze says:

    Considering he does eventually have a break out season I wouldnn't find it that improbable he could peak out in his career with a 40 goal season with the right playmaker.

  19. mojo19 says:

    oh ok. haha, sorry! I forgot to mention: Great article!

    And ya Cam, you're right his contract extension does kick in next year so it would save them $ next year but not this.

    I do like Lupul though, maybe we'd get him for something different. Stempniak's gotta start scoring to be worth a little more.

  20. I-BE-LEAF says:

    Can't remember which paper I read it in but it's reliable.  Trust me.  Everything is going to be fine, Leaf fans.  Burke is in the process of cloning Brad May.  My sources tell me there will be 6 Mays by season's end.  That should make for very impressive 3rd and 4th lines.

  21. barahir says:

    That nail you hit is slammed through the board.  Only thing, I'm not sure Antropov would get both those picks and Sopel, maybe the 2nd, but probably no 1st in any case.

  22. barahir says:

    Endless speculation and navel gazing by frustrated thirty somethings who never saw a Cup.

  23. barahir says:

    …it's like Ontario's 2 teams are 69ing and trying to be the first to blow load into the other's mouth.

  24. 93killer93 says:

    The leafs have really no good prospects, besides schenn and maybe tlusty or kulemin, because JFJ traded all their draft picks and prospects for players that he thought would help the leafs make the playoffs.  Rask for Raycroft? We could have had 2 decent prospect goalies, instead he gets raycroft who the leafs have to buy out to get rid of.  The only way the leafs will win the stanley cup any time soon is if they completely rebuild their team.  this draft is the perfect time to do it.  If they can trade all these players and manage to end up with either the 1st or 2nd overall pick, they get  a franchise player like Hedman or Tavares.  Also their are good forwards like brayden schenn, evander kane, matt duchene. Outside the top ten if they can get more draft picks is a guy like ryan ellis on defence who in a couple years time could be a major part of leafs powerplay.  If they can get a couple more 1st rounders they can always do what they did last year and trade them to draft higher up.

    On another note if the leafs wanted to trade stempniak for lupul they would likely have to give away more players.  Philly said they would trade lupul for a veteran d-man.  They want to add to their defence because they are looking to compete in the playoffs.  Since the Leafs have Kubina and kaberle they should add one of those to the deal and try to get an 1st rounder depending on which guy they decide to trade, another draft pick, and a prospect d-man like Luca Sbisa. 

  25. 93killer93 says:

    the leafs lack of draft picks has really screwed them up as they cuurently have only luke schenn, maybe pogge/tlusty.  The leafs need to keep coming in last and get good players thats how all the other teams did it.  it really is not that hard to understand, coming in last is good when your team is horrible.  The best example is the penguins. they made the stanley cup finals last year by being the worst team for years and years.  Look at their drafts.

    2002- ryan Witney       5th overall not a big pickup but still 5th overall 
    2003- MA Fleury          1st overall
    2004- Evgeni Malkin    2nd overall
    2005- Sidney Crosby   1st overall
    2006- Jordan Staal      2nd overall

    the leafs draft picks lately

    2006- Jiri Tlusty  13th overall
    2008- Luke Schenn 5th overall

  26. Nobleman says:

    first things first kaberle will be traded no matter what anyone says whether it be at the deadline or draft day it will be done …
    my thoughts are he could go for a 1st, 2nd and top prospect especially to a team who needs the make the playoffs and overpays.

    Secondly, i like the antropov deal however i believe that toronto will be able to get more out of the rangers if they keep on struggling. maybe del zotto and a 2nd perhaps. i dont want to overate antropov however he has skills and assets which make him valuable

    poni will be gone at the deadline with stajan and white. Especially white who can attract maaybe even a 1st rounder ( a little bit of a stretch but torontos done worse so its possible)

    i like your signings but the first ones will all stay with same teams exept for antropov who will be dealt.

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