Brian Burke's Roster Blueprint Is Failing Quickly, Is There Time To Fix It?
Brian Burke has had some success in the past with his building from the back-end out philosophy, winning a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07 on the mighty shoulders of goaltenders Jean Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, along with Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and young stars Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner.
He believed in solidifying your goaltending and your back-end first and then going from there. Now while I do appreciate the concept, trying to carry over that belief to the Leafs has pretty much flopped, due to poor free agent signings to help shore up the back end.
I have the utmost respect right now for Toronto's goaltenders, and feel they are not the problem, however, Brian Burke has surrounded the goalies with defensemen with very low hockey IQ and overall play.
Jonas Gustavsson and Jean Sebastien Giguere have been nothing short of consistent, and really have kept the Leafs in many games they did not deserve to be in.Giguere, who is keeping the starting goaltending spot warm for Gustavsson, expires at the end of the year and carries a $6.0 million cap hit along with it.
The depth in the minors with Jussi Rynnas lighting up the AHL, as well as Ben Scrivens and James Reimer as future back-ups, the Leafs look good going forward in goal.
Mike Komisarek, who was brought in last season to add some sandpaper to the Leafs defence has pretty much been the best player for the other team on most nights, highlighting nights with more give-aways then hits, something he was brought in to do. Komisarek's play right now earns him top 10 status in terms of worst contracts in the NHL.
Francois Beauchemin, who was also brought in prior to last season, was supposed to be one of Toronto's top three defenceman and possible power-play quarterback, but since his arrival, it pretty much as been a struggle for any sort of consistency he displayed with Anaheim.
Beauchemin was playing alongside the likes of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, both potential hall of famers, probably made him look better than he was, so the Leafs thought they were getting a potential steal in the free agent market.
Much to the chagrin on Leaf fans, that was not the case for with signing both of these defenders.
We move onto Brett Lebda who will be making close to $1.5 million, is proving to be a bust right now, pinching at the most inopportune times, as well as boasting a team worst -11 in very limited ice time on the back end. Fact of the matter is, not many Leafs are a plus this season anyways.
Lastly, the two veterans, ans stars on the backend, have hardly been playing up to their abilities this season, as Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf have had slow starts to the year. Phaneuf hasn't really clicked on the powerplay, and was a -6 before he left the team due to injury.
Meanwhile Kaberle has been mediocre this year, nothing too good, nothing too bad. He is giving the puck away with more regularity, a glaring concern right now for the Leafs.
On the positive side, the young defenceman for the Leafs have been the bright spot. Luke Schenn is playing like an all-star, and Carl Gunnarsson and Keith Aulie are showing they can hack it in the NHL, showing steady, but unspectacular play.
Right now, the Leafs defence needs the adjusting and it has to happen fast. The Leafs are locked up to too many rather pedestrian defencemen for the price they are paying them.
In a perfect world, the Leafs would be trading Komisarek, Beachemin and Lebda for draft picks and/or prospects and building their defence through the draft, while adding a missing piece via free agency; not filling up the defence with free agent adds and hoping to add a missing piece from the farm.
We all have heard Brian Burke's philosophy of having two lines that can score and the other two lines that can defend. This is probably the most glaring deficiency in this young Leafs team.
Burke was hoping that players such as Tim Brent, Mike Zigomanis, Fredrick Sjostrom, Colton Orr and Mike Brown could fill the role of checking forwards, and really, I think they are filling to role quite well.
My one issue though is none of them can score with any consistency, and this is just one weakness in Burke's plan.
The other weakness in this plan is the fact that with having only two lines that can score, you have to rely on them nightly to put up points in order to win.
With a young, inexperienced, and VERY small team, the likelihood that the Leafs put forth any sort of consistent scoring effort is wishful thinking at best.
The 2006-07 Ducks, which Burke likes to reference when building a team, was a completely different set-up. Their young stars were huge in comparison to the Leafs "top six" as well as being insulated with quality veteran forwards such as Rob Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, and Todd Marchant.
The Ducks top six, which included Ryan Getzlaf, Andy MacDonald, Corey Perry, Dustin Penner, Teemu Selanne and Chris Kunitz were an average size of 6'2" and 210 pounds, a mighty force to try and defend nightly. Andy MacDonald was the small guy in the top six at 5'10" 185 pounds.
The Ducks bottom six were filled with players with good size, good speed, but most of all, great hockey IQ. The Ducks were a veteran team, so stupid mistakes didn't happen as much as they do with the Leafs.
In comparison, the Leafs top six of Phil Kessel, Nik Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Kris Versteeg, Clarke MacArthur and Nazem Kadri or Tyler Bozak are an average size of 5'11 inches and 190 pounds. With the beating you take nightly in the NHL, and the toll it takes physically on you, having a young, small team in today's NHL is a recipe for disaster.
The forwards are the last piece to the puzzle that needs filling, however, it's the position in need of the greatest overhaul on the Leafs current roster. Burke doesn't have the same squad he had in Anaheim, so I think it's time to abandon his belief of a top six and bottom six.
The Leafs need to start by playing three lines that can score with consistency to start, but also, really make an effort to get bigger up front. The addition of Colby Armstrong, at 6'3" 205 pounds will help, but that still doesn't fix the major issues facing the team going forward.
Rather than having a two line attack, I'd rather see the Leafs build a team in the Detroit Red Wings or Boston Bruins mold, where you can run out three lines nightly that can score, along with a checking line that does its job.
Brian Burke came in here hoping to have an accelerated plan to make the Leafs contenders, but it looks like that plan may be more long-term, much to many Leaf fans dismay.
The Leafs plan is flawed badly, can they make the switch in time to salvage the future, or will it take years to get out from under the Phil Kessel deal and a failure to make the playoffs since the lockout.
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