Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Brian Burke miracle isn't happening

Maybe the expectations were too high, but you can't get very excited about the 2009-10 Toronto Maple Leafs. It has to be pretty much accepted that this is the worst Leaf team since 1984-85. When Brian Burke suggested at the start of this season the Leafs would compete for a playoff spot it appears that either:
  • He had grossly overestimated the strength of his team (quite common in sports),
  • He is risk taker and things have not been going his way, or
  • He knew the team stunk and has been blowing a lot of smoke.

I'm not quite sure which is the case. Maybe a combination of all three. Here's how I see it.

The college free agents

After signing Hanson and Bozak as college free agents (and throw Gustavsson in with them), Burke declared that this group was the equivalent of 3 first round picks in the amateur draft. Now that is just a pile of crap, All three players were overlooked over the course of three draft years. That doesn't happen if these guys were that good. All three are well beyond 18 years of age and struggling to learn how to play in the NHL.

Unrestricte free agents

In addition to the college free agents, Burke went out and offered big contracts to Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin to strengthen the Leaf defense. Both players have been disappointments. But then both players were coming off of sub par years which were shortened by injuries. So is this a case of gambling or overestimating their value and ability?

The truculence factor

Part of Burke's plan was to change the culture on the Leafs by bringing in a group of tough players to fill out the bottom end of the lineup. So he sighed Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill and traded away Pavel Kubina for Garnet Exelby. No Leaf player is in the top 10 in the league in fighting majors. As a team the Leafs are 10th in fighting majors and 12th in penalty minutes. However, they also happen to be one of the worst penalty killing teams in the history of the NHL. As a result, the more physical game has mostly become a liability.


Goalies are fill the most important position in hockey and one of the more critical positions in sports. So Burke decides to hang his season on a veteran with chronic injuries coming off surgery and an unknown and unproven Swedish rookie who has never played in North America. Of couse perhaps Gustavsson might have had an entirely different season had he not undergone heart surgery twice. Some more bad luck or a poor read on his lineup.

Phil Kessel trade

This has to be an example of grossly overestimating both the team he has and the impact that Kessel would have. I am sure Burke was convinced that he was giving up two middle round first picks in the trade with Boston. That certainly would make the Kessel trade look pretty good. But Kessel has looked out of shape coming off of shoulder surgery and has not had a significant impact on the Leafs. Well you know how the rest of it goes. The Leafs are at the bottom of the standings and Boston stands to get a pretty good pick in 2010 and maybe the same in 2011. Meanwhile the Leafs cannot get significantly better without some young prospects to build around. This trade might make Leafs forget about the Raycroft trade very soon and that's not a good thing.

So what has worked out? Not too much. No free agent has stood out. His lineup has a number of players with big contracts and little production. The farm system is pretty barren. The Marlies are near the bottom of the standing and their top scorer is a fighter, Andre Deveaux. Their goalie of the future has some potentially serious health issues.

Brian we're waiting. Show us something.