Toronto Maple Leafs

Brian Burke's Wish List is Obvious, But Can Santa Really Deliver?

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 28:  Brian Burke, executive vice president and general manager of the Anaheim Ducks watches a practice session for the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks ice hockey teams at the O2 Arena on September 28, 2007 in Greenwich, London, England. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Tyler LavoieCorrespondent IDecember 4, 2010

As Leaf fans, we all have a working solution in our head that would turn the team around don't we?

Personally, I've had countless discussions (some turned arguments) as to what needs to be done. Surely many of the thoughts floating around in our heads are best case scenarios: no GM rivalries, no salary cap, or anything else in the way of a 5-for-1 deal, but let's try and be realistic for a second.

It was about a year ago that rumors started to spread about Brian Burke making a trade. He said himself that "the culture in the dressing room needed to change" and did so, sending a number of players to Calgary bringing over both Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie.

Now, with no real change in the result aspect of his hockey club rumors are again popping up.

Clearly on the wish list of Brian Burke, and on that of every Leaf fan, is a number one centre. One who can play with Phil Kessel, but that's where my discussions have often turned into arguments.

Kessel is a rare breed. If you were to make a list of similar players currently playing in the NHL it would definitely be a short one: Jarome Iginla, Thomas Vanek, Dany Heatley, Marion Gaborik, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

There are a number of qualities these players (including Phil Kessel) have in common: they posses a great shot, have break-away speed and are considered pure goal-scorers.

What else do they have in common? None have won a Stanley Cup, and all have been on the trading block a number of times throughout their careers.

Looking closer, no team built around a superstar-sniper has won a Stanley Cup post lock-out. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a Cup-winning team built around a player with a similar skill set to that of a Phil Kessel in the past twenty years.

Teams are much more successful with play-making/all-round players such as Joe Sakic, Pavel Datsyuk, Vincent Lecavalier, Rod Brind'Amour, Scott Neidermayer, Henrik Zetterberg, Sydney Crosby, and Jonathan Toews.

My point is if the Leafs plan on crowning Phil Kessel their franchise player (and I am assuming that is the case considering what they gave up to get him) they would be breaking the mold so to speak. Kessel is not the type of player who makes others around him better - it's simple with him - get him the puck and he will shoot.

A player like Kessel needs a specific type of centre in order to be effective. It's a problem that has occurred with Marion Gaborik, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Jarome Iginla.

It worked well in Boston with Marc Savard because Savard was an unselfish play-maker who supported the puck well. He didn't carry the puck, or get overly involved in the cycle, he gave the puck to Kessel and supported the play.

The list of players who share a similar skill-set to that of Phil Kessel's is short, however, the list of players who fit in with that playing style is shorter. Ovechkin has Backstrom; Heatley has Thornton, but the other rare breeds will continue to struggle, and their teams will likely continue to come up short.

The Leafs will continue in their ways for a number of years to come. Until they can DRAFT first-line players who are of the second-mentioned list's caliber (Sakic, Datsyuk, Lecavalier and so on) they will struggle.

Kadri and Kessel will have plenty of time to learn how to play together, and without doubt the draft picks will be fairly high. If you consider 2012 the Leafs' next draft year it will have to be at least three years after that before things really look up.

My final thought is that it's not a management issue, or even coaching issue, rather it is the personnel on the ice that is the problem. Last year the Leafs had a plethora of third-line players; this year they have a plethora of second-line players, and it's obviously not good enough.

Thanks for reading.


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