Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Breaking Down The Burke Press Conference

The more General Managers talk, the more often they'll contradict themselves and Brian Burke talks a lot.  You'll get no argument from me; a lot of what Burke says isn't to be taken at face value, but having said that, it's important to understand precisely what Burke says, rather looking at his messages in broader strokes.  I believe that a lot of what the Leafs' GM has said has been taken out of context and in using his most recent interview as a template, I'd like to try and clear the air on some of these issues.

What I Agreed With

"I still believe in that group with MacArthur, Kulemin, and Grabovski."

Burke handed out a bit of praise to his second unit and these are the types of players who I believe help you win hockey games.  Their possession numbers are strong, they push the play in the right direction, and they can eat up tough minutes for a hockey team.  I was glad to hear Burke express some confidence in these guys as he's generally of the belief that advanced stats are Voodoo.

"At the trade deadline, we didn't panic, we kept our assets. We have all the players that teams came after, we have those assets and we can use those assets to make hockey deals."

My big concern this season was that Burke would feel such intense pressure to make the playoffs that he would trade futures for vets and expiring deals in an attempt to squeak into the big dance.  Despite all that Burke has said about not wanting to do that, you always understand that the risk is there when you're dealing with an individual with such an undeniably enormous ego.  This administration has spent significant time adding assets (just ask them) and I'm glad they didn't tear it down for a run at a playoff spot.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dream and Nightmare Outcomes for the 2012 Entry Draft

The NHL Entry Draft is a time for hope for fans of teams who find their teams on the outside of the playoff picture.  As fans of successful franchises are lining up their face paint and decking out their cars with those little window-mounted flags, the brain-trust at the NHL head offices throws us a bone the day before the playoffs start with the Draft Lottery.

A good friend of mine and fellow hockey fanatic is an avid Oilers fan so the draft is something of a big deal in my social circle.  The past few years, we've made a bit of a tradition of putting together a 'dream' draft list which is essentially our best case scenario for our team and a 'nightmare' draft list which is comprised of worst case outcomes.

Since there really isn't much else to talk about, I thought I'd share my preliminary thoughts with all of you, well in advance of the draft.  For the purposes of this exercise, I'm assuming that the Leafs draft 5th overall as that's the most likely outcome of the pending lottery.

The Dream Draft

My most favoured outcome would be for the Leafs to keep their first pick and have Alex Galchenyuk land softly in their laps at five.  Galchenyuk is a playmaking center with decent size and good speed, who shoots the puck well.  If there's an area of concern it would be his speed in bursts / acceleration but it isn't something that I'm overly worried about.  Galchenyuk has perennial all-star potential and is the kind of center that Burke has been trying to land since he acquired Kessel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

It's a Bonanza! NHL Draft Lottery

So you’re saying there’s a chance!

It’s hard to believe we’ve come to this. After such a mesmerizing start to the season, we find ourselves firmly in the dungeon of the NHL standings – the Draft Lottery.

Of course this season will go down as an abject failure – another unsuccessful march to the playoffs, the firing of a head coach, and a rotating carousel of mediocrity between the pipes, all scars from what was a disappointing end to 2011-12.

What might make this offseason different than that of our last eight early trips to the tee blocks is that there's hope for the future. Finally the team has a top draft pick, and at least 5 players in this year's draft who look capable of making an impact in the NHL within 1-2 years it would seem an enviable situation. Unless, of course, Mr. Burke does the unthinkable and trades his first round pick (Michael Ryder is a proven 35 goal scorer, I hear he’s available *collective gasp!*).

There’s a certain irony, that our refusal to succumb to a classic rebuild – whereby you trade all non-essential assets and build through the draft – has somehow led to a rebuild nonetheless. With cap space, trade pieces, and a significant draft pick, this offseason marks the first in which the Burke administration has no obstacles to overcome other than themselves. The JFJ contracts are almost all off the books and the current roster is devoid of aging stars – the Muskoka 5 have long since retired to, presumably, the Muskokas.

Monday, April 2, 2012

This Is It: Why Burke's Tenure Will Be Defined By The Next Four Months

Brian Burke's arrival in Toronto was met with a great deal of fanfare.  The blustery GM had an impressive resume, having built the foundations of a successful team in Vancouver and as well as putting the finishing touches on a Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim.  Not only was he a good hockey guy, but he also had a mix of bravado and coarseness that Toronto fans seemed to fall in love with almost immediately.

After 3+ seasons as Toronto's GM with the team still taking up residence in the league's basement, the love affair is officially over.

Now, this piece isn't a condemnation of Burke's tenure; it's more of an admonishment.

Generally speaking, my opinion is that Burke has done a good job as GM of the Leafs.  The team he inherited in November of 2008 has only one player set to make over $5M next season and that player, Mikhail Grabovski, is still with the team.  Burke has greatly improved the team's assets and if he were to leave today, I would feel confident in asserting that the team would be in a better position to succeed in 3-years time than the group Burke adopted in 2008.

Having said all of this, Burke is not without his failings.  He's been atrocious at identifying talent in free agency.  Aside from Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak, Burke's record with free agents as GM of the Leafs is rife with blunders.  Komisarek, Armstrong, and Connolly are Burke's most expensive forays into the free agent market and are also among the weightiest anchors against the team's cap structure.  These are the kinds of contracts that can really sink a team in a salary cap league.

Cap Space As An Asset

In today's NHL, cap space, like players and draft picks, is an asset.  Unlike other assets though, cap space has a one year shelf-life; the space you don't use this season is gone the next.  Most floundering teams choose not to use the space, choosing instead to bide their time in anticipation of better days.  Burke has chosen to use the space available to him on shorter term deals.