Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Une saison perdu (with aplogies to Hemingway)

When Thales was asked what is most universal, he answered, Hope, for hope stays with those who have nothing else - Epictetus, Fragments.

I'm beginning to think Thales didn't know what it is to be a Leafs fan.

Earlier this year, before a single game had been played, a good friend of mine told me that this would be the worst Leaf season since the lockout. The team was largely without talent up front and lacked a certified puck stopper. Giving up five of eight first round picks meant there were little to no reinforcements on the farm, little depth in the system, and very few tradable assets to spackle over the many holes in the Leafs roster.

I hate to say it, but it looks like he was right.

The worst part is, with so few assets on the farm, the cap situation limiting most trades, no draft picks with which to stock up on young talent and so few appealing UFAs hitting the market, I don’t see how this team gets significantly better (never mind how limited their options are if Kessel gets hurt).

Where Will the Players Come From?

The big question for this organization is how to re-build without draft picks? How does this team acquire the cost-effective talent and depth required to compete?

Yes, the Leafs will have plenty of cap space in the off-season and likely a barren roster to re-populate as Exelby, Mayers, Ponikarovsky, Primeau, Stajan, Stempniak, Toskala, Wallin and Van Ryn are all pending UFAs. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a bumper crop of UFAs hitting the market and several of the big name UFAs will likely sign long-term deals with their current clubs.

More importantly, UFA contracts are rarely full-value (Hey look - it's Jason Blake, Jeff Finger and 15% of the Leafs' cap hit) and a very inefficient and unproven way to build a successful hockey team in a capped system.

Down on the farm, the Leafs have four, maybe five, kids that might make a contribution at the NHL level.

Next season Hanson, Bozak and Stalberg will have a shot at cracking the 3rd, possibly 2nd line, and Gunnarson will get his shot as the fifth or sixth D. That’s it. The following season, Kadri gets his chance (let’s not rush the boy). After that the cupboard is pretty much bare.

The just leaves the, ahem, small task of landing 2/3 of a first line – including a true first-line pivot that can play the tough minutes and get Kessel the puck - 1/3 of a second line, a starting goalie, and someone that can run the PK.

All of these needs have to be acquired via free agency or by trading players that are uniformly having terrible seasons.

Sounds like a good plan.

There will be no Restocking of High Round Draft Picks

Last year at the trade deadline a single first round pick changed hands. Just one. First round picks have never been worth more. The one thing that's never had higher value comes at a time when the Leafs don't have any (quelle suprise).

This year, short of trading Tomas Kaberle (who has a NTC, a clause that Brian Burke stated he will not ask Kaberle to waive) or the few prospects that the Leafs have, there is no asset on the Leafs roster worthy of a first round pick.

There is no first round pick coming as part of a salary dump.

Let me say this again: There is no first round pick coming as part of a salary dump.

Every year since the lockout countless ink has been spent, millions of pixels distributed and the airwaves polluted with chatter that teams in cap trouble would trade high draft picks to shed problem salaries.

With the exception of a single deal between San Jose and New Jersey four years ago, it hasn't happened and I doubt it ever will.

Waivers, buy-outs, and loans to European teams are all far more viable and acceptable options than trading away an ever more valuable asset just to deal with a bad contract.

If anything, GMs have figured out that dead contracts can be dumped as part of bigger deals: JFJ wants Toskala? He's got to take Mark Bell. Got a deal for Dany Heatley? Here's Cheechoo, a little washed up and weighted down with cash. Want one of the Hawks big prospects, better stitch Campbell's name on the back of a jersey.

Another Lost Season

With just 3 wins at the first quarter mark of the season, the Leafs are pretty much just playing out the string.

The only thing to look forward to this year is the trade deadline where the team might be able to procure a second or third round pick and a whole pile of 5th and 6th rounders for their spare parts. (Who would have guessed that the true passion that unites us all is a day in mid-February where we get to see a bunch of guys wiped from the Leafs roster?)

On pace for 12 wins, fewest goals for, most goals against and maxed out at the cap. Two top 10 draft picks in the last two years already in the system. Just think, this is where Chicago was in 2005, and where Pittsburgh and Washington were in 2004. Sadly, I can’t see a similar upside for a Leaf team with so few options left.

Yeah, the sun also ariseth - unfortunately, the Leafs' fortunes never seem to.


  1. Great, and very depressing, post.

    It's November, and we're already playing out the stretch. Even the Blue Jays lasted longer.

  2. Let me say this again: There is no first round pick coming as part of a salary dump.

    You are doing the Lord's work.

    And let's go one further: Tomas Kaberle isn't bringing back a high first rounder. No non-playoff team is trading their top pick for a guy who'll be a UFA in one more year. None. The only teams that will be interested will be cup contenders. So that Kablere first rounder we're all clinging to will be in the 20s. At best.

    As good a player as he is, Kaberle's most attractive quality has always been his excellent contract. And it has just one more year left, after which he'll be looking at a major raise. Even as he plays well, his value is dropping every day as the clock ticks down.

    When it comes to Kaberle, Burke blew is big time.

  3. Dispute - lack of first rounders moving at the trade deadline.

    Olli Jokinen was the only player to warrant a 1st round pick last year because he was the only major player moved.

    The players that garnered 2nd round picks are as follows: Nik Antropov, Ales Kotalik, Erik Cole, Justin Williams, Dominic Moore, Daniel Carcillo, Matt Lashoff, Jordan Leopold, and Antoine Vermette.

    If you are honestly arguing that Kaberle is not in the echelon of Jokinen, but is in the echelon of the players just listed, then I'm not sure you're making a fair comparison.

    Prior to Jokinen, Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa were both moved for a 1st rounder in 2007-08 and they were in the FINAL years of their contracts.

    Prior to the trade deadline - in February of last year, Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie garnered the Islanders Dean McCammond and a 1st rounder from Ottawa.

    In August of 2008, Andrej Meszaros was worth Filip Kuba, Andre Picard, and San Jose's 2009 1st round draft pick.

    In July of 2004, Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich earned Tampa Bay Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a 2009 1st round pick, and a 2010 4th round pick.

    I don't care WHEN the trade is made, I seriously don't see how you can argue that Tomas Kaberle is NOT worth a 1st round pick. He's worth a lot MORE than just a 1st round pick, even if you have to package a lesser player with him to get it.

    I also fail to understand why getting 1st round picks is a bad thing even if they're later on in the round. Yes it sucks that they won't be 1st overall, but such is life, and we'll all live with it.

  4. July 4th of 2008 was the Boyle deal, not July of 2004.

  5. Sburtch Thanks for your comment.

    If you look back at previous trade deadlines, players of questionable talent were going for first round picks (2007: Shane O'Brien to Tampa for a first rounder?!?)

    Throwing around first round picks came to an abrupt end last year and I don't think it will be seen again.

    GMs were slow to realize the value of first round picks and I'd argue they've never been worth more than they are today.

    Also, if you care to check my text, I did say that Kaberle is worth a first round pick. He's likely the only roster player on the Leafs that might yield such a return.

  6. Anonymous12:01 p.m.

    Thales of Miletus also said that 'all is water'. If he looked at the Leafs' situation he might revise that and say 'all is crap'.

    I really don't understand the Kessel trade in the context of the rising pile of feces that is the Leafs season. How could Burke not see this as a possibility? First alarm bell for me would be that during the pre-season your best offensive pieces were three ex-collegians and a kid you just drafted. Prudence suggests not rushing them to the NHL, but doesn't wisdom also suggest that you should evaluate how the team will be once they leave?

    Second alarm bell for me would be the whole justification for holding onto Kaberle and what it means for the team's ability to transition to offence. I realize that Burke didn't want to trade Kaberle in the end because he rightly realizes that in today's faster NHL you need a good puck moving defenceman. Shouldn't the realization that you only have, er, ONE of these players raise a flag that you will have difficulty generating good chances to score?

    Third alarm bell for me would be that Antropov was shipped out for a conditional pick and yet not adequately replaced for this season. If Burke thinks that Stajan is a top six forward - he did say this before the season began, then he should get away from sniffing Elmer's school and look the sobriety of reality in the face.

    Fourth alarm bell,.... oh what's the point.

    I realize that Burke wanted truculence, but in the context of the lack of offensive weapons and relative dearth of mobile, puck moving defenceman, did he think the Leafs were going to scare the opposition into dumping the puck in their own net?

  7. Anonymous12:39 p.m.

    er, the above should read "Elmer's school glue".

  8. You and "Down Goes Brown" have it right again. Brian Burke has talked a lot about how we have all these good, talented defensemen, who will bring back talented forwards and high draft choices. Last year we parted with Kubina, Stralman and Kronwall ... the return was nowhere near what Burke says it could be. This year he's making the same boasts and fan are drinking it up again. Fans are still talking about the Kaberle trade with Philly that didn't happen ... I have my doubts that it was going to unfold the way it was reported anyway, given what players like Chris Pronger have commanded since then.

    I'm not anti Brian Burke. I think he was the best choice available and think he's capable of bringing this team around in time. One of the things I like most about Burke is his honesty and willingness to speak his mind. Unfortunately so far we haven't been treated to much of that, quite the opposite actually. This team has been bad for a long time. A few more lean years won't matter to me, as long as I see them moving in the direction we were promised when Burke signed on. Build up a young talent base, develop it, and then make your move.