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Toronto Maple Leafs: Giving a Report Card to Brian Burke

Joseph TrentonAnalyst IIIMay 17, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs: Giving a Report Card to Brian Burke

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    Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke has sat in the front office chair for four years. He has put together some pieces of the team that weren't there before he came. He also removed parts of the team that did not fit into his plans moving forward in the form of trades and free agency.

    At this moment, it is a good time to take a look at what Brian Burke has really done. What we are focusing on is not the superficial pass/fail or just focusing on one single area of the team.

    Brian Burke will be evaluated on the following categories, in terms of his work with the Maple Leafs:

    • offense
    • defense
    • top six forwards
    • bottom six forwards
    • defensive corps
    • goaltending
    • prospects
    • professional scouting
    • European scouting
    • college scouting.

    In each of these areas, the idea is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses within the organization, and not to dive into the specifics of individual performances.

    Let's begin the process.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs Offense

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs finished 10th in the NHL goals (sixth in the Eastern Conference) for the statistics category in the 2011-12 regular season. That is 2.77 goals for per game, and 227 goals on the 82-game schedule.

    Let's take a look at where the Leafs started from back in 2008 when Brian Burke joined the Maple Leafs:

    2008-09: 244 goals, 2.98 goals per game, sixth in the East, 10th in the NHL.

    2009-10: 210 goals, 2.56 goals per game, 12th in the East, 25th in the NHL.

    2010-11: 213 goals, 2.60 goals per game, 11th in the East, 21st in the NHL.

    At the beginning of Brian Burke's tenure, the Leafs were approximately in the same position offensively as they are today in terms of ranking. However, the number of goals has decreased throughout the NHL over the years.

    Burke's Grade: B-

2. Toronto Maple Leafs Team Defense

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs' team defense ranked 29th in the NHL (14th in the East) in the statistical category of goals against. They gave up 3.16 goals against per game on average, with 259 total goals given up on the year.

    Let's take a look at how this compares to seasons starting from 2008:

    2008-09: 286 goals against, 3.49 goals against per game, 15th in the East, 30th in the NHL. (note: John Tavares and Victor Hedman draft).

    2009-10: 263 goals against, 3.21 goals against per game, 15th in the East, 29th in the NHL. (note: Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin draft).

    2010-11: 245 goals against, 2.99 goals against per game, 12th in the East, 24th in the NHL. (note: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins draft).

    2011-12: 259 goals against, 3.16 goals against per game, 14th in the East, 29th in the NHL. (note: Nail Yakupov draft).

    Burke's Grade: F

Top Six Forwards

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    For the most part, this is what the Leafs' top six forwards looked like:

    Lupul - Bozak - Kessel

    MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin

    (Connolly occasionally substituted with Bozak, and Frattin sometimes played in the place of Nikolai Kulemin.)

    In summary, this group consisted of one point-per-game player in Phil Kessel (37-45-82 in 82 games) and three other 20-goal scorers in Lupul (25), Grabovski (23) and MacArthur (20).

    The group of seven (including Connolly) also scored a total of 33 power-play goals on the season.

    Burke's Grade: A

Bottom Six Forwards

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    For the most part of the season, the Leafs' bottom six forwards were:

    Frattin - Lombardi - Crabb

    Rosehill - Steckel - Brown

    (extras: Dupuis, Kadri, Ashton, Colborne)

    Brian Burke's bottom six forwards have been good at a couple of things. First, they play a blue-collar game and sacrifice the body. Secondly, they play a role on the penalty-killing unit.

    Steckel tallied 170 hits, Brown 120, Crabb 101, Frattin 81 and Lombardi 58.

    Steckel also led the bottom six unit with 66 shot blocks on the season.

    Moreover, the Leafs' penalty-killing rating in 2011-12 was 28th in the NHL (15th in the East) at 77.3 percent.

    Therefore, the bottom six forwards probably did not impress team management a whole lot.

    Burke's Grade: C-

Defensive Corps: Top Six Ds

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs spent a lot of time over the last few seasons revamping their defensive corps. From Tomas Kaberle to Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and Dion Phaneuf, there has been a ton of turnover at the D position.

    However, let's look at what the defensemen did this year.

    Dion Phaneuf led the scoring with 44 points, but was a minus-10 on the year.

    Jake Gardiner added 30 points on offense, but was minus-two on the year.

    John-Michael Liles, a puck-moving specialist, had 27 points and was minus-14 on the year.

    Luke Schenn scored 22 points on offense, but was minus-six on the year.

    Cody Franson scored 21 points on offense and finished a minus-one and the team leader on D.

    Carl Gunnarsson scored 19 points, but finished minus-nine on the year.

    Mike Komisarek scored five points and was minus-13 on the year.

    The defense did not perform well enough this past season, and definitely saw major struggles down the stretch towards the playoffs. No one on defense was an "even or plus player."

    Some changes must happen between now and the beginning of next season, or the Leafs could be in for another big disastrous year.

    Burke's Grade: F

Toronto Maple Leafs Goaltending

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    The Leafs relied on three goalies on the 2011-12 regular season. James Reimer began the year as the No. 1 starter and Gustavsson was a backup. Ben Scrivens joined the Leafs after the trade deadline and played a few remaining games on the season for the Leafs.

    Here are the goalie statistics:

    James Reimer: 34 starts, 14 wins, 14 losses, four OT/SOL. .900 save percentage, 3.11 GAA.

    Jonas Gustavsson: 36 starts, 17 wins, 17 losses, four OT/SOL. .902 save percentage, 2.92 GAA.

    Ben Scrivens: 12 Starts, four wins, five losses, two OT/SOL. .903 save percentage, 3.13 GAA.

    (Jussi Rynnas also started one game, and played in a total of 98:54 on the season)

    Based on save percentage, the Leafs are very below average. Of the key goalies, Gustavsson led the team, but finished only 38th in the NHL in save percentage.

    Based on goals-against average, the Leafs also averaged over 3.00 goals against per game (3.16 for 29th overall).

    As a result, this year has been a disaster in goal, just like it was on the defensive corps.

    Burke's Grade: D-

Toronto Marlies & Prospects

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    The Toronto Marlies have had a very successful AHL season despite the struggles on the Leafs NHL roster. The team managed to develop a few young prospects in hopes of one day becoming NHL regulars.

    Players include Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Carter Ashton, Nicolas Deschamps, Jerry D'Amigo, Marcel Mueller, Korbinian Holzer and Ben Scrivens.

    From the younger players playing for the AHL Marlies, Marcel Mueller led the scoring with 47 points in 72 games.

    It looks like the Marlies are starting to build up a little bit of stock in terms of organizational depth and prospects pool. However, there remains a lot of room for further improvement in this area.

    Burke's Grade: B+

Professional Scouting

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    Toronto has improved its professional scouting over the last few years. From Burke's tenure, the Leafs saw key additions such as David Steckel, a faceoff specialist, Carter Ashton, a former first-round pick of the Lightning, and Joe Colborne, former first-round pick from the Boston Bruins.

    Before Burke joined the Leafs, these types of foundation players never really existed as the team was used to big spending and never paid attention to developing a base and maintaining the effort to improve piece by piece as an organization.

    Burke's Grade: B+

European Scouting

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    Brian Burke and his assistant Dave Nonis are quite famously known for making long trips to Europe to speak with All-Star players such as Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Fabian Brunnstrom and Jonas Gustavsson.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs rely on scouts in Europe keeping an eye on players that could potentially sign in the NHL from their teams in the Swedish Elite League, Finnish League, Swiss, German and so on.

    In order to be successful in European scouting, not only does a team need to be familiar with these players, they must be able to ultimately attract them to sign a contract with the organization. For the most part, Toronto has improved vastly in this area under the Brian Burke era.

    Jonas Gustavsson, Marcel Mueller, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Owuya are some key examples of Burke's scouting staff doing its job.

    Burke's Grade: A-

College Scouting

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    In late March and early April of 2009, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a big announcement that they have successfully signed American college free agents Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson to entry-level contracts with the team.

    These players became important pieces to the Leafs organization, because they serve as additional depth in the Leafs prospect pool and they are more mature players with good level of intelligence.

    Bozak, as everybody knows, became the Leafs top-line C with Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. It cost the Leafs nothing, other than to sign the players to a contract.

    Brian Burke and Dave Nonis continue to search for players who may be qualified to play in the NHL system, and make Toronto a viable option for them after collegiate hockey.

    Burke's Grade: A

Overall Report Card for Brian Burke

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    Subject Letter Grade
    Team Offense B-
    Team Defense F
    Top 6 Forwards A
    Bottom 6 Forwards C-
    Defensive Corps F
    Goaltending D-
    Prospects B+
    Professional Scouting B+
    European Scouting A-
    College Scouting A

    Key Strengths: Quality top six forwards, prospects pool is becoming deeper, professional scouting is doing a good job, European scouting is adding to the pool and college free-agent signings have made positive impacts on the team.

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