Why Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs are Screwed – Commentary by Jamie Gilcig – January 30, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – No confusion with the title of this piece, huh?    Yes, Brian Burke and the Leaf Nation are pretty much screwed.

The days of reloading a team the way Montreal did two years ago are pretty much over and the success of Montreal’s signings are still under consideration.  While the Habs had a great play off run some would suggest it had more to do with departed goalie Jaroslav Halak than the $5M, $6M, and $7M dollar men on the Montreal squad.

I get asked about my hockey pedigree so I thought I’d share a bit of it before I digress on the subject of this piece.

I essentially have been a life long lover of the game and my former home city, Montreal.     In the early 90’s I worked in Hockey running sports card shows and repping a few players for performances.   I traveled with Mark Verrault’s Greatest Hockey Legends team which I one day will write a book about.

I also worked for Score/Pinnacle Hockey Cards Canadian Distributor.  I was the one that suggested the run Alex Daigle(remember him) before Eric Lindros in one of their early factory sets as I thought Mr. Daigle would be a bust.

I also was one of the first creators of a Rotisserie style Hockey system here in Canada which was a lot of fun and ended up creating some Bill James type video scouting and stat tools which led to my employment with the Habs in the 95-96 season, my last in hockey since this year.

It’s funny; most of these tools still aren’t being used in the NHL even though they’ve finally moved out of the dark ages. (Try explaining spreadsheets to Jacques Lapierriere, Yvan Cournoyer, and Rejean Houle!)

The video scouting was essentially charting and quantifying players performances to uncover tendencies.   Montreal surprised the Cup winning Rangers by winning the first two games of the play offs that year; something I was really proud of as I’d hit them with numbers like Adam Graves taking 65% of his shots from the same area.

Montreal was able to use some of these tools, but like any great team the Rangers adapted and eventually overcame Montreal in six games.

My system also quantified skating, contact results, and all sorts of magical indicators of player effectiveness.  It was fun and exhausting, but great to see in effect.

The other tool was a set of filters that would allow you to quantify a players performance from any team in the world in any league to another.  An example was Steve Maltais who had scored over 50 goals with the Chicago Timberwolves, but if he had the same ice time on the Habs that year would only put up 19 goals which was why he was with the Timberwolves.

It did show a few gems and role players like Greg Hawgood who was picked up by the Canucks I believe.   These tools essentially were great support tools for a scouting department.   I was given a number of players to report on as well which were under trade consideration.

After the play offs I took my checque and headed to Los Angeles for my film career which also was a lot of fun and ended up with something I created being nominated for an Oscar (2003 Best Feature Doc Prisoner of Paradise)

Vision is very powerful in hockey which is a bit like a poker game with 30 sharks sitting around the table.    It’s funny how professional sports have changed since Rotisserie Baseball came out in the late 80’s.  Remarkably so.  I’d love to play a season with Brian Burke as he’s an emotional kind of guy.   I’d love to play poker with him too 😉

Mr. Burke made a big play for Phil Kessell, one which I’m sure many Leafs fans aren’t that thrilled with.   He then did some good moves grabbing strong talent as he could find it.  The thing is that he didn’t predict the shriveling of the free agent market and the demands for talent as parity takes effect.

In today’s NHL you have to build your team in 3 year cycles and need a balance of value without forgetting your future.   Mix in some low priced young talent that can play major roles with a core of solid citizens and a few value added deals on the end.   Detroit has the league watching with its use of low dollars spent on Goal tending which is pretty darn smart.

You’re seeing veteran’s salaries go down and goalies too.   The premiums are on the few rare gems when a team needs that one piece of the puzzle which is where you want to be as a GM.

Looking to next season Toronto doesn’t have any major draft picks after trading their number one to Boston in the Kessell deal.   They don’t have any real assets to move which will net them an impact player.   Their only real help is finding over priced talent that teams need to eject for salary.   The minors are starting to fill up with Wade Reddens and Sheldon Sourays.      Teams want to move their big money contracts if they can and probably will pay to do so,but does that help your long term future?

Teams in today’s NHL have to be careful about dumping draft picks and about dumping value.   Scott Gomez at $3.5M is worth a lot more than at $7M.

Looking at the Leafs as of press time for next year they are an interesting mess.

Phil Kessel at $5.4 M isn’t that much of a bargain without a Centre to play with.

Versteeg is the subject of trade rumours and as much as I like Colby Armstrong can you really afford to spend $3M for his grit?  He’s not really a top 6.  If you’re the  Leafs you can today or if you want a needed cup run part.

Grabovoski at 2.9 is actually pretty good.   The Leafs like many teams are missing that BIG centre; of course the Leafs are also missing a number 1 centre too and the wings are looking pretty barren.

Defense?   Kaberle will most likely be gone.   They’re trying to shop Komiserak from what I’ve been reading; Jeff Finger is in the minors; Captain Phaneuf at $6.5 is pretty price; Beachemin at $3.8 is being peddled, but if I’m the Leafs I better make sure I get something good for Frank.    Schenn is due a raise and is the player that they were hoping Komisarik would be.

In goal I actually like the Monster and Reimer combo for now and there’s always someone available.  So you can really see no fabric to Toronto and how many good free agents will there be?  Sadly the best strategy for the Leafs is the slower build for the next two years.   The Pantry is not full enough to make big trades.    If I’m Brian Burke I try and grab value in the market; players I can trade for draft picks or key pieces and build my core.

Of course Mr. Burke is under the gun, but he’s a tough man and Toronto loves a guy like Brian Burke and by taking value from teams while taking their bad contracts he’ll put some talent on the ice, but the only way this team makes it to the play offs, never mind Cup contention is by taking some bitter medicine and having the patience to heal from its spiritual concussion.

Of course his most tradable commodity is Phil Kessell, but it would take an awful big does of humility for Mr. Burke to trade his top goal scorer and face of the team.

What do you think Leaf Nation?  You can post your comments below.

Choose Cornwall

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