Brian Burke has done an amazing job of making over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With the additions that have been made to the defense and goalkeeping, the back end (as the Leaf's GM has stated—and I agree with him) will rank with anyone.
However, the question that still keeps getting asked whenever the Leafs are discussed is: Who is going to score goals?
The question that Leaf fans ask next is: Why can't Brian Burke do something about it?
Well, let's take a look at the Leafs' forwards.
A current list includes:
Jason Blake, Niklas Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Mikhail Grabovski, some others who are newcomers, some new signings, and a few rookies from last year.
For now, let's just look at the first six names. Brian Burke is not responsible for signing any of these players—with the possible exception of Mikhail Grabovski, who was re-signed by Burke to a three-year contract with a raise.
For the upcoming season, the total annual salary of these six players is $16,990,000.00.
Based on the statistics from last year, and bearing in mind there were no long-term injuries to these six forwards, these players scored a total of 119 goals and 194 assists for a total of 313 points.
The player's annual salary of $16,990,000 divided by the total points of 313 comes out to $54,280.00 per point scored.
Now, if the comparison was made to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the six players named were Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Ruslan Fedotenko, Petr Sykora, and Miroslav Satan—who are not the best forwards on the team—the totals are 149 goals and 241 assists, resulting in a total of 390 points.
The total salary for these six players last season was $27,750,000.00. If the same mathematics are performed, we find that $27,750,000.00 divided by 390 points is $71,150.00 per point.
Those two point-cost figures are much different. Pittburgh's total is about 30-percent more in fact. If you look at the outstanding contracts of these six Toronto players (the length of them in particular), it could be a couple of years before any major changes up front are possible.
Burke's plan is to build the team from the goal crease forward. The goalkeeping situation appears to have been improved, and the defense has been toughened and upgraded.
Will that be enough to allow the smallish (by NHL standards) forwards to find more space, move more freely and quickly, and, ultimately, score more points? Only time will tell.
My feelings are that it certainly won't hurt.
The addition of some larger third- and fourth-line forwards who enjoy being physical won't hurt either.
The "Burke Plan" is obviously far from being finished, and if I have the correct "read" on this man, it never will be.
But, I feel we can count on the team being better defensively with more toughness and grit—which should translate into more space and quickness and, in turn, more goals.
In my humble opinion, the team is on the right path to respectability. Burke has accumulated some quality players and signed them to extended contracts. By the time the rest of the changes are made, the newly acquired players should still be here.
I know there is an eternal stream of hope in the hearts of Leaf fans (and I certainly count myself as one), but finally, there seems to be a plan and a good, logical direction to the path the Leafs are taking.
The changes will never be as fast as I would like, but things are happening and will continue to happen.
Patience is a virtue in all things, including the Maple Leafs. Considering the length of time there was no plan and much instability, the next few years won't seem too bad.