Tonight's 5-0 loss at the hands of the worst team in the NHL's Western Conference makes one wistfully look back and question the direction of Brian Burke's truculent Leafs. What would have happened if, instead of trading for Phil Kessel, the Leafs had kept their first round picks? Would they have Tyler Seguin? Would they have Taylor Hall? Would they have a shot at Adam Larsson or Sean Couturier?
Ultimately it doesn't matter. What's done is done and enough ink has been spilled on The Kessel Trade. I was among the most vociferous opponents of the trade at the time, but there is little to be gained by the sort of "na na na boo boo" commentary that is prevalent in the Leaf blogsophere now. The Leafs are a team of poor quality and no amount of second-guessing will change that.
What's important is whether or not it's too late to go back.
I've heard people posit that now that the Leafs have traded their picks for Kessel they might as well push on and acquire the Brad Richardses and Alex Semins of the world. That would undoubtedly get them back in the playoffs and from the 7th seed...anything can happen!
I'm here to tell you it's false. Don't believe the hype, it's not too late! There IS another way.
Sure, the Leafs' first rounder is gone, but another can be acquired. Burke could abandon his "principles", pressure Kaberle into accepting a trade and acquire a first rounder in the 20-25 range. He could trade Giguere for whatever he could get and throw Gustavsson to the wolves over the next year and a half. Don't kid yourself, the Leafs are bad enough to earn a top pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. A lot of cap space and a lot of liquid cash means some cap space can be spent on the Wade Reddens and Sheldon Sourays of the world being acquired with picks. With a top pick in 2012 and another few picks in the 2nd-3rd round, could the Leafs be a good team in 2013? Would the Leafs be better or worse than they would be in 2013 with Kessel, Semin, etc?
Is Leaf Nation ready for a rebuild? I mean a REAL rebuild? There are two schools of thought: 1) it's too late to rebuild now, forge on, and 2) tear it down, push the restart button. Who's in which camp? Who has the stones to say, "tear it down, it's not a championship team, I'm ready to take on 3 more years of out-of-playoffs hockey"?