Toronto Maple Leafs' Three of a Feather: Burke, Wilson and Kessel

Derek ScarlinoCorrespondent IFebruary 8, 2011

TORONTO, CANADA - FEBRUARY 1:  The Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Mikhail Grabovski goal against the Florida Panthers during game action at the Air Canada Centre February 1, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

I would like to be the first to point out some inconsistencies with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season (Note: heavy sarcasm).

I'm simply fed up with the Maple Leafs Love Fest going on in the professional and amateur media circuits these days.

Anyway, the conundrum of the Leafs, as comprehended by my ilk in Leafs Nation, is almost as annoying as that sorority chick, three years past college graduation, who still uses the word "random" to describe events and happenings that are actually quite easy to deduce.

What's wrong with the Leafs? Contrary to the assumptions of many observers, Brian Burke is still putting the team together. The first clue, among many, that I will use to reinforce my blasphemous suggestion, is that I do not recall many Burke-run teams competing with AHLers on the first line.

Sorry, Joey Crabb. You're a hell of a lot better than I am, but the party isn't going to last long.

No. Burke needs to add more to the roster. He needs to trim some fat. It seems that the throngs of Leafs fans want a team wherein every player is perfectly suited to their exact position. A team that doesn't have a use for its minor league affiliate. Twelve forwards that score at least 82 goals a season, win every fight and never end up on the receiving end of an open ice hit.

Let's be realistic: only 29 other teams can be like that. Get real, my fellow Leaf lovers.

Actually, the team's reality, and woes, can be summed up in the struggles of three men: General Manager Brian Burke, head coach Ron Wilson, and All-Star winger Phil Kessel.

Why? Because they all face the same challenge. They need to perform, at high levels, without many of the resources needed to get the job done.

Burke is still making his mark on the roster. He builds in four phases: goaltending, defence, bottom six, top six.

Results aside, he's gotten to the former three already. The top six forwards, specifically the first line, still need to be addressed. It can't all be done in one summer, can it? No. It can't.

He's stocked the cupboards quite nicely on the farm. It's hard to argue that the Leafs had a better feeder system at any other point in the past decade. But, the first line remains a work in progress as he can only do what time allows.

He wants to make a deal. He wants to win. If you don't believe that, I hear Sarah Palin is looking for a lost relative. You should get in touch with her.

As bad as he wants to make a deal, he has to work with what opportunity the hockey gods (contracts, and other GMs) give him. Even outliers like Bill Gates had to kill some time before making anything of value. Like many, many successful humans in history, Burke will have to master his opportunities or at least know when to strike.

Trouble is, I don't know the location of the underground bunker where the Stars keep all of their Brad Richards clones. You'd think with all the "parity" in the NHL now that everyone would get one. Jerks.

Perhaps he could buy a voice-changer machine thingy from some unspecified Russian player's ex-KGB father, call a few GMs acting like their star center, and demand to be put on waivers. Use your imagination.

See, Burke is doing what he can in the environment given to him. It's as if each team is some beast in the animal kingdom hoping that their mutations help them evolve into something stronger and fitter.

He can only work with what is available. Nothing more.

Ron Wilson is in a similar situation, and it has been noted by Burke. Burke wants to see if Wilson can have success with a team entirely of his make-up. Remember those upstart American pukes at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? I think Burke's logic is sound here.

Wilson has had different rosters each season that he has coached in Toronto. The turnover from season to season has been profound. The roster has also gotten younger. This presents new challenges aside from finding chemistry. Some players have yet to develop the skills that will more accurately gauge their abilities, and to a further extent, chemistry.

Should the Leafs be better? Yes. Much better? No. Ideally, and realistically, the Leafs should be on the wrong side of the playoff doorstep come season's end.

It's hard when one line is carrying the offensive workload. In a Burkian world, two lines take up that mantle. Grabovski, MacArthur and Kulemin make up one of the best second-line units in the NHL.

As for Wilson's first line?

"Hey, boss, how about a little help for Phil here?"

Burke has given Wilson an expensive blueline that hasn't pulled it's weight (in USDs) yet. He's given him a pretty solid presence in net. Gustavsson should have gone to the Marlies to begin with, but he had to help save Toronto from Toskala Pox.

He's also delivered a solid bottom-six of hitters, forecheckers, shot blockers and pugilists.

Again, among the top-six, the Leafs only have a top-four at the moment. The plan is in motion, and it has encompassed most of the team with mixed results.

What really ever goes according to plan anyway? Democracy? Marriage? Blueprints to resurrect one of professional sports' most idyllic franchises?

None of it. Every team tweaks its roster. Every team trades. Every team is looking to cut dead weight. Some do it more. Some do it less. The Leafs do it more, and need to.

So, Ron Wilson can only coach what he is given. He can't just coach Darryl Boyce to score thirty goals, nor can he make Nazem Kadri develop any faster with a mere wink of one of his eyes.

And lastly, there's Phil "The Thrill" Kessel. The person with the least control over his destiny.

Phil is completely dependent on Burke to get him some teammates of first-line caliber skill, and Wilson to get the line combinations right.

Clearly, the responsibility chart is an inverted triangle (like Team Russia's offence, oh snap!).

Phil can also only do with what he has.

Quickly, before some quirky individual points it out, I understand that the success of every GM, coach, and player is dependent on their surroundings as much as their natural talents and deal-making savvy, but I'm just focusing on how concentrated this concept is with the Maple Leafs. So shove it.

Currently, Kessel is being thrown under the bus by the fascinating mercurial tendencies of the fan base that is, Leafs Nation (and their block of Bleacher Report writers).

I know that we're all fans of the only team that doesn't let it's top players make trades for suitable linemates, so we, like Phil, have to settle with what we've been given so far.

The funny thing about sports though, is that teams are always changing while Leafs fans seem to think that there's an actual end to this road called a "rebuild." There isn't. Hopefully, you're just a better version of moving parts than you were a few years earlier.

I don't think that the Vancouver Canucks would pass up the opportunity to acquire Alex Ovechkin simply because their plan is working better than everyone else's this season. See, there is no end.

It's not the US Supreme Court. It's not fantasy hockey where you have a limited number of trades. The last time I checked, the NHL was still going to allow players to be moved from team to team, and even the minors, for at least the next few seasons.

Kessel, in his breakout year, scored 36 goals while playing on a line with Marc Savard. Savard is kind of good isn't he?

What I love most about the Kessel bashers, or at least some, is their own hope to acquire Brad Richards. This guy's name comes up a lot. Why?

Because he's an elite, playmaking center.

Who would he be making elite plays to?

It's almost as if many followers of the Blue and White, and haters alike, suffer from "circumnavigating logic."

What the hell is CL?

I don't really know, I just made it up because when I say it, I envision ideas floating around someone's head like neutrons in continuous circles, and because of their circular orbits, they never fully develop, they just promote and subvert themselves in a non-stop cycle.

Phil Kessel isn't worth a lick of salt, but let's get Brad Richards because Phil Kessel is awesome and would score 40 goals a year with Richards feeding him the puck.

Just wondering if Kessel goes from a perceived inability to score to suddenly becoming a threat or what?

Considering that he's likely on his way to a third, consecutive 30-goal season (second consecutive without any real help), and 30-goal seasons are easy to come by (based on the suggestions of writers and fans alike), Brad Richards might not be the answer if he's only boosting Kessel's numbers by 10 goals or so.

Or, is Kessel actually worthy of praise for what he brings? Especially when he's just about void of resources in regard to linemates?

I supposed it all comes down to one simple observation that he, his bench boss, and his boss boss are all subject to: their collective success is largely influenced by how well they can manipulate their surroundings and compete with what they have at a given time.


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