We can all agree that Brian Burke has definitely put his stamp on the Toronto Maple Leafs since becoming General Manager about a year and a half ago. Whether it be through the draft, free agency, or trades Burke seems to favour North American players.
I am by no means saying the Burke dislikes European players. We're not talking about Don Cherry here. Burke has shown that he respects talent in any shape or form by signing players like Jonas Gustavsson, Jussi Rynnas, and Marcel Mueller. He also took three European players in the 2010 draft, including Sondre Olden, Petter Granberg, and Daniel Brodin.
Other than skill, Brian Burke admires hockey players who have other important attributes including size, toughness, character and leadership. He has historically found these kinds of elements in North American players, especially ones found on the Stanley Cup winning 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, a team he had a big hand in building.
I recently researched how many full-time North American players were on each of the Stanley Cup winning teams since the NHL lockout. The numbers may surprise you, and in my opinion, aren't a coincidence.
2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes - 17 North American Players
2006-07 Anaheim Ducks - 17 North American Players
Who Has Been Burkes' Best Acquisition?
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins - 15 North American Players
2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks - 16 North American Players
Now the exception to the rule was of course the Detroit Red Wings, who play a very tight system and have benefited greatly from outstanding drafting and player development. Other than Detroit, the rest of the Stanley Cup winning teams were made up of approximately 70 to 80 percent full time North American players.
The way Burke typically builds his teams leads me to believe that he has caught on to this trend. He has brought in a staggering amount of North American players over the past year and half, with most of them having the attributes Burke loves in a hockey player. These players include:
Colby Armstrong - Lloydminster, AB
Tyler Bozak - Regina, SK
Mike Brown - Northbrook, IL
Luca Caputi - Toronto, ON
Christian Hanson - Venetia, PA
Phil Kessel - Madison, WI
Colton Orr - Winnipeg, MB
Kris Versteeg - Lethbridge, AB
Francois Beauchemin - Sorel, QC
Mike Komisarek - West Islip, NY
Brett Lebda - Buffalo Grove, IL
Dion Phaneuf - Edmonton, AB
J-S Giguere - Montreal, QC
Clarke MacArthur - Lloydminster, SK
Quite a long list if you ask me. I think Burke has made great progess with the team, considering what he inherited after the John Ferguson Jr. trainwreck. Sending players like Antropov, Ponikarovski, Hagman and Toskala on planes only helped the franchise take the next step in getting past the stale era of mediocrity.
Not only has Burke filled the current team with North Americans, he has also used the draft to ensure players with character and size will fill the roster for years to come. Let's take a look back at the 2009 and 2010 drafts:
2009 Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Choices
Nazem Kadri - CAN
Kenny Ryan - USA
Jesse Blacker - CAN
Jamie Devane - CAN
Eric Knodel - USA
Jerry D'Amigo - USA
Barron Smith - CAN
2010 Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Choices (NA only)
Brad Ross - CAN
Greg McKegg - CAN
Sam Carrick - CAN
Josh Nicholls - CAN
I'm sure not every Leafs fan agrees with the way Burke is building the team, such as often overlooking raw talent to make room for gritty bruisers. Burke overlooked Kirill Kabanov in the 2010 draft to take Brad Ross and Greg McKegg. Although Kabanov has obvious personal issues, his skill is undeniable.
Also, drafting a fourth-line enforcer like Jamie Devane in the third round of the 2009 draft instead of taking a potential future 20-goal scorer could prove to be costly, but it is simply Burke's way of doing things.
What do you think of Burke's strategy for building a winning team? Do you wish he would give more soft but skilled European/Russian players a chance, or is building the team around well rounded North American players the way to go?