The Toronto Maple Leafs and GM Brian Burke only have one move left to make. It is the hated, archaic term in Leaf land: rebuild. This isn't being proposed lightly, but from necessity. The current plan, quite simply, isn't working.
While many of you may be thinking to yourselves, I thought the Leafs were rebuilding? Well, technically you are correct. After two years on the job, Burke has done a good job acquiring prospects with few high draft picks.
However, the Leafs have attempted an ill-conceived rebuild on the run. Which at the date of writing, has landed the Leafs second last-place in the NHL last year and a projected third last-place finish this year.
The Leafs will give the Boston Bruins a lottery pick two years in a row, anyone who thinks the Leafs will somehow pull out of the bottom five are delusional. The problem doesn't lie in the Leafs ability to win games, though they to tend keep that to a maximum of two in a row.
The problem is in the three-point game. Assuming that the Leafs win their next two games (which against Boston and Washington doesn't appear to be likely), they still need the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres to lose both their next two games in regulation to pass them in the standings.
At this point in the season, climbing your way up in the standings is difficult. Even the numbers say that the Leafs can't make the playoffs. According to numbers dating back to 1993, of teams not in the picture around the American Thanksgiving, only a handful have made it.
With 58 games left, the Leafs would have to win around 32 games and lose six more in overtime to make the postseason. That would be giving the Leafs the magic number of 90 points. Meanwhile, the Leafs are currently on pace for 66 points, which would have put them only four points ahead of Edmonton for dead last a year ago.
This is possibly the most important period in Leafs history in the past 43 years. The Leafs possess a GM who is knowledgeable, and has the contract term to start a proper rebuild. The Leafs possess their first-round pick for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 draft years—and at this point it is suggested they keep them. Now is the time to make the right choice, long-term.
Edify. Succor. Indoctrinate. Contrive.
These four words should be Brian Burke's new words of choice.
Burke needs to ditch his running rebuild as the only thing it has rebuilt is the Bruins depth chart. The amount of teams who go from bottom-three to playoffs in only a season is almost negligible. In fact, only two teams have done so in the past five years: the Colorado Avalanche and the Philadelphia Flyers.
I think everyone can agree that the Leafs are not in the same position as those teams who, for the record, had their first-rounders the year(s) they were in the bottom three.
The odds are against the Leafs making the playoffs this year and next year, even if they marginally improve this season. Why sacrifice the future by overpaying again (See: Komisarek, Beauchemin, Armstrong...) only to finish out of the playoffs?
Burke needs to do it right by taking the next two or three years to try and trade away some veterans for picks, and get a good young stable of prospects.
After two years of allowing Boston to draft in the bottom three, Leaf fans should be able to deal with two more years of drafting in the bottom three and actually benefiting from the results.