The Last week has been a real study in sociology in regards to the Maple Leaf fanbase. The vigor of animosity being thrown at management for not making similar mistakes to those that this team is still living with is fascinating. The free agency period opened as per tradition on Canada Day, and since then it as though the world has come unhinged. People are calling for heads, and it is unfortunate to have to say, most of it is unwarranted.
The Leafs made one signing on Canada Day, Jay McClement, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche. He is not a marquee player by any stretch, but his skill set has become necessary. Randy Carlyle on several occasions last season used fourth line center David Steckel in excess of seventeen minutes, far too much for the lead footed center. McClement should at least ease the burden on Steckel for penalty killing and defensive situations. At an affordable $1.5 million cap hit, there is hardly any risk in this contract at all.
The large splash was made following the draft in acquiring James Van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia in exchange for the once untouchable Luke Schenn. Luke’s days in Toronto were numbered from last season forward as it appeared that the style that Ron Wilson had been preaching was not a great fit with the stay at home defenseman. If anybody deserves credit for his demise, Wilson should shoulder the burden as his uptempo run and gun hockey was never a fit for the personnel that Brian Burke began to collect once assuming duties as general manager. Schenn struggled from his sophomore year on, and never really regained the promise that he showed with the Kelowna Rockets prior to being drafted by Toronto.
Several myths need to be expelled about the direction of this team, and the actions of the general manager over the past several months.
The Leafs need a star player/Star players won’t come to Toronto – Neither is necessarily true, but they seem to perpetuate never the less. The fact is, the NHL has great players yet fans and media seem to think that once they arrive in Toronto they are no longer good. Most star players do not leave the teams they play for, and the few that do usually have motivations for leaving that Toronto has no means to address. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter wanted to go home, and unless Larry Tannenbaum want the team to play in St. Paul, they were not going to play for the Leafs. Jordan Staal wanted to play with his brother, how awful would the witch hunt have been had Burke traded large assets to bring him in only to lose him next July in free agency. Rick Nash is only as large a star as the NHL makes him. his talent is indisputable, but the facts say that he has played in only four more playoff games than the Leafs since the lockout, and that appearance had much more to do with Steve Mason playing out of his mind good for a single season. If he couldn’t do it in Columbus, what makes him a lock to do it in Toronto. What most don’t talk about is how Phil Kessel has been statistically better in the last three seasons playing for the Leafs than Nash has been in Columbus.
The best way to acquire star players in the NHL is to draft and develop them, not through trade and free agency. There are huge deals made every Canada Day, and maybe a handful of them in the last five years would qualify as unmitigated success stories. More often than not the deals that get done are not about hockey, but rather desperation to turn things around faster than is possible, and they harm the team more than help. Burke has already done this (see Kessel, Phil), and would be certifiable to try it again. As far as not attracting star/good players, they don’t want to play for bad teams. Early in the millennium when the team was good, players tended to want to play here.
The Leafs have a couple positions of need, but none is of more importance than between the pipes. If Burke is guilty of anything it is repeatedly overestimating the quality of his goaltending. He did this in Vancouver relying on Dan Cloutier to play much better than his abilities allowed, and was one of the factors in his dismissal from the team. Teams with good goaltending occasionally miss the playoffs, teams with bad goaltending almost always miss the playoffs. Burke did try to get Martin Brodeur, who was the best option in free agency at his position, but Marty chose to stay with Jersey. Can’t really fault the guy for it, but after watching Scrivens play for a year and seeing what James Reimer can do, the keepers may not actually be that bad. Having them play under conditions that see less than a dozen odd man rushes in each game and maybe they can be better than competent. After all, Jonathon Quick, Marty Brodeur, Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas all have one thing in common, being they all started somewhere.
As far as the parade controversy, people need to get a handle on themselves. Brian Burke, in reality, answers to three people. Bell Communications, Rogers Communications, and Larry Tannenbaum. If any of the above have an issue with him not being in his office on the open of silly season, that is between them and Burke. I’m more than positive that the owners and board have the utmost faith in David Nonis, Claude Loiselle, Dave Poulin, or anybody else to get deals done in the absence of Burke. It has been widely known that the deal acquiring Dion Phaneuf was orchestrated by Nonis, with Burke only granting permission. Nonis was also the architect that saw Roberto Luongo move to Vancouver Todd Bertuzzi and some spare parts.
Lastly, if you do have an opinion, which is fantastic, try and show some civility. The hate and vitriol that has made it’s way across the Internet and comment sections of newspapers the last month is just plain offensive. The Leafs are a hockey team, and may I suggest that if your life is that affected by the actions or in actions of Brian Burke, find a good doctor. It is July, the weather is beautiful, go to the beach, go to the park, go on vacation, do something that you enjoy, but keep the disrespect to a level lower than it has been. Burke was marching on Canada Day for equality and tolerance, whether or not you agree. All of us show a bit more of that, myself included.