Toronto Maple Leafs: 4 Important Changes in Team Culture That Must Take Place
For the Toronto Maple Leafs to compete for a playoff spot and a Stanley Cup championship on a yearly basis, there are a number of culture changes that need to happen.
This could include selecting new alternate captains, making significant roster changes and/or making front office changes.
Let's look at four culture changes that the Leafs need to make for long-term success.
Fire General Manager Brian Burke
Let's start off with a move that should have been made after last season.
General manager Brian Burke has proven in his tenure with the team that he's not the right man to build the Leafs into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender again.
Burke has made a number of poor moves in the free agent and trade markets since coming to the Leafs. Some notable failures include free agent signings of Mike Komisarek and Tim Connolly.
The Phil Kessel trade with the Boston Bruins will likely be the highlight of Burke's career in Toronto. He could have signed Kessel to an RFA offer sheet since the Bruins were nearing the salary cap, and looked unwilling to meet Kessel's salary demands.
Instead of signing Kessel to an offer sheet and parting with a first, second and third-round pick (offer sheet compensation at the time), he did Boston a favor and gave them two first-round picks.
This is not a move you make in the early stages of a rebuild.
Giving up two first-round picks for an established scorer is a trade that contending teams make to complete their championship puzzle.
Trading Kris Versteeg in 2011 to the Philadelphia Flyers for a late first-round pick was also a terrible move. Versteeg was a young player who had impressive scoring potential, and he would have played a top-six role for many years in Toronto.
Burke's poor free-agent signings, foolish trades, unimpressive draft history and his desire to stay away from offer sheets are all valid reasons to fire him. Burke is an overrated general manager, who won a Stanley Cup in Anaheim with a roster that the previous GM mostly built.
Don't Be Afraid of Lengthy Contracts
Burke has not been willing to sign players to contracts longer than five years as GM of the Leafs. Even though each lengthy contract can turn out to be a mistake, in today's NHL, it's going to be difficult to sign the best unrestricted free agents to contracts of five years or less.
If the new CBA includes term limits, then these decade-plus deals might not be an issue anymore, but if contracts remain mostly unchanged in the new labor agreement, the Leafs cannot shy away from signing a superstar to a lengthy contract.
According to Capgeek, there are 42 contracts in the NHL that were for seven years or more in length when signed.
When you look at the list of players with these contracts, you will find many of the top 40 players in the sport. The best players want these contracts, and if you are unwilling to offer them, you significantly hurt your chances of making a marquee free-agent signing.
If there's one team that can afford to sign a player to a rich contract that's 10-plus years in length, it's the Leafs. According to Forbes.com, Toronto is the most valuable franchise in the NHL, and finished No. 1 in revenue last year with $193 million.
If term limits are not part of the next CBA, the Leafs have to change how they view these long-term contracts. To get an elite player going forward, it's very likely that teams will have to commit close to 10 years when signing unrestricted free agents.
Remove Mike Komisarek as an Alternate Captain
When the Leafs decided to let veteran forward Colby Armstrong leave in free agency, they needed to find a new alternate captain. Armstrong's "A" was given to Mikhail Grabovski, who has been with the team four years, and has a new five-year extension that will begin this season.
The team's other alternate captain is Mike Komisarek, who should not wear the "A" on his sweater next season. He is an overpaid, underachieving, injury prone defenseman who has very little value to the Leafs.
It's not smart to have an alternate captain that often misses games because of injury, or because he's a healthy scratch.
Here are some players that would be good choices to replace Komisarek as an alternate captain.
1. Joffrey Lupul
Lupul knows how to handle adversity, he works hard and is very good with the media. He has the perfect personality to be an alternate captain.
Lupul is also a vocal guy who would speak up if there's an issue with the team that needs to be addressed. However, he is only signed for one more season, but if he were to sign long term, making him an alternate would be a no-brainer.
2. Phil Kessel
Kessel sometimes wore the "A" this season when Komisarek and/or Armstrong were not playing, so he has some experience in this role already. He's not a vocal player, but he definitely leads by example with his work ethic and strong offensive performance.
3. Jake Gardiner
It may be early to give Gardiner an "A" at just 22 years old, but the young defenseman has all the tools needed to be a future captain of the franchise. Gardiner is unlikely to receive an "A" in the near future, but if he was given the responsibility in the next year or two, it would be surprising if he couldn't handle the role.
Major Goaltending Change Must Happen
The Leafs have been absolutely dreadful at the most important position in hockey in every year since the lockout. Goaltending is annually a glaring weakness on the Leafs roster, yet there hasn't been a major move to address it over the last few years.
The whole organization needs to make a stronger effort to improving this position. The best way to do this is probably through a trade. Making a deal for Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo would result in a better, more consistent performance between the pipes.
Take a look at where the Leafs have ranked in save percentage and GAA since the lockout.
Last year, the Leafs finished 10th in goals scored per game. If they had a strong goalie, there's no question that they would have been in the playoff race for the entire season.
Take a look at where the Leafs have ranked in goals scored per game since the lockout.
Making a move for Luongo would solve the Leafs' goaltending woes for a number of years. His contract is an issue, but there is no way the Leafs will become consistent winners unless the franchise makes a much stronger effort in improving the goaltending.
Now that the Leafs have several talented offensive players, the time to acquire a marquee goalie is right now.