Maybe MLSE should hold off on that terrible "Free To Be" song as the anthem of the Toronto Maple Leafs and adopt "Patience" by Guns N' Roses. Just a thought.
I haven't weighed in on any of the speculation surrounding the Leafs yet during the 2009-2010 season, but now, I think that I'll start.
Caveat: they are my favorite sports team, so this might get wordy.
The Leafs are in deep this season. Everyone knows this. So, what does it mean? Predicting sports is like predicting the weather. Sometimes you call for sunshine and end up with a tornado. Such is the fate of the Maple Leafs this season.
First off, nobody expected Toronto's season to go as bad as it has. There's still a mathematical chance that they could turn their fortunes around and, though a playoff spot is highly unlikely, they could still improve their overall league standing.
Improbable, sure. Unlikely, quite. Impossible, no.
The fact that Brian Burke will most likely have to eat his decision to trade two first-round picks for Phil Kessel is a subject that is expectedly all over the media, and all over the respective comment threads that accompany them. It may look foolish in hindsight, but for the majority of sports fans who have never gotten burned while taking risks, there were actually some pretty solid, calculated reasons for playing that gamble.
Phil Kessel is no slouch. Sorry. As this is being written he is in a goal-scoring slump, but he's sure been finding the open man enough to tie a team record, seven-game point streak. He wasn't acquired by Brian Burke to make pretty passes, but he's still producing. Wouldn't we all settle for 31 points in 42 games after major shoulder surgery?
Kessel's problem is mired in the fact that he's the one getting the puck up the ice. Someone needs to do this for him so that they can be the set up man, not Kessel. Bottom line, he will produce—and he's only 22-years old.
The other factor in the decision to ship away picks were the college free agents that Burke picked up. Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, and prospect Viktor Stalberg. Ages 23, 23, and 24 respectively and they're not doing too bad either.
Stalberg was one of the best players in the preseason, Hanson is doing very well with the Marlies and it has been suggested that he need only to learn the pro game in order to succeed, and then there's Tyler Bozak.
After a bout with H1N1, and some injury problems, Bozak's late call-up has been a bright spot for Toronto as he has 6 points in 9 games. The kid can make plays, and he's putting chemistry together with Kessel.
The three of these players will be NHL regulars sooner than later. In a good draft class, one can typically expect that the first five picks will be sure-fire, NHL stars. The rest are a crapshoot.
This is not my estimation, it's the conventional wisdom that I've heard for a few years from people who get paid to say things like that. The next two draft classes are predicted to be some of the driest in recent memory.
There's little to no hope left for the Leafs this season, but one thing is certain, there is a plan. That's something that is noticeably different from the John Ferguson Jr. days. If anything, the blame is more on him than Brian Burke for the Leafs' current woes. Anybody remember the Tuuka Rask for Andrew Raycroft trade? Ouch! How about the no-trade clauses that he handed out like candy?
How many picks, prospects, or both did the Muskoka Five cost the Maple Leafs?
As with anything long-term, the beginning usually is rocky. From wars, to relationships, to jobs, and finally, rebuilding sports franchises. I certainly would not like to see any more first-rounders traded, but I think that the Leafs have the prospects to soften the blow from the Kessel deal.
And, if Nazem Kadri comes in next season and helps ol' Phil net 45-50 goals, losing those picks would become ancient history in T.O.
As for the next step, I won't speculate too much because it's all wishful thinking from here until October 2010. Who should stay and who should go?
Tomas Kaberle should most definitely go. The return is either a first-round pick, or an established player from another team. Two players that I wouldn't mind the Leafs pursuing are Nathan Horton and Nicklas Backstrom.
Kaberle could be used in a deal to net either of them. For Washington a Kaberle, Exelby, and/or Jamal Mayers package for Backstrom would be ideal. The Caps want to resign Backstrom, but the headway is slow going. Plus, Washington has virtually no muscle—which Exelby and/or Mayers provide (and they both want out of Toronto). Kaberle replaces Backstrom's spot on the PP so that Ovechkin isn't playing the point anymore.
Kaberle and Mike Green on the point? That's like having Kaberle with what everyone in Toronto wanted out of Bryan McCabe.
The Leafs get another proven point producer. Imagine Backstrom feeding Kessel? The Leafs lose a little truculence, but they would definitely make up for it where it really counts.
As for Horton, he's young, he's a leader, he's a power forward who produces and his playing style fits what Burke's wants. There have been rumblings all season that he isn't happy down in Sunshine, Florida. Why not make an attempt to accomodate him? On a line with Kessel he provides a little protection and offensive flair of his own.
The trade deadline is going to be where Burke can do the most catching up as the free agent pool, like the draft class, is quite dry.
Oh yeah, Leafs Nation—forget about Ilya Kovalchuk!