Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Thing Burke Got Right

As the offseason enters its twilight, Leaf fans are bracing for what may be another difficult season.  It looks like the 2010-11 Leafs will be icing a squad comprised of roughly four defensemen for every forward and goal production will once again fall on the shoulders of a select few.  This would be a fine arrangement for Toronto FC – one wonders if Brian Burke is confused about which MLSE team he is managing – but a hockey team usually requires more than one top-end forward if they hope to contend for a playoff spot.

But there is one bright spot in the Leafs strategy in this blogger’s opinion.  The acquisition of Jussi Rynnas is the latest example of an approach to developing a goaltending corps that I heartily support.  Rynnas is the third unsigned, undrafted goaltender that the Leafs have picked up in the past year (Gustavsson and Scrivens being the others).  Add fourth-round pick James Reimer to this list and I think we’re looking at an unheralded victory for the much-beleaguered Leafs GM.  Leaf fans should be applauding Burke on his strategy for a number of reasons:

1) They were all ‘free’. I won’t belabour the Leafs’ well-documented lack of high draft picks and lack of depth at forward. What I will say is that a team in the Leafs’ position does well to pick up any promising player without having to give up anything in return.

2) None of them are Vesa Toskala. Though I would sleep better at night if someone could produce a photograph of Rynnas and Toskala at the same event, just to make sure.

3) Goaltending is a crap shoot.  When it comes to young goalies, nothing can be considered a ‘sure thing’.  Of course, many of the goalies taken in the top rounds live up to their billing - Luongo (4th overall), Brodeur (20th overall) and possibly even Fleury (1st overall) are good examples.  However, many more starters seemed to come out of nowhere, like Hiller (undrafted), Nabokov (219th overall), Lundqvist (205th overall), Miller (138th) and Kiprusoff (116th).  Add to that the fact that a lot of top-rated goalies are a bust - Rick DiPietro (1st), Brent Krahn (9th) and Peter Hamerlik (84th) were all selected before Henrik Lundqvist in 2000.  Actually, King Henrik wasn’t even the first SWEDISH goaltender selected, that honour went to Mikael Tellqvist (70th).  You never know which goalie will make the leap to stardom, but like in craps, you have a better chance of winning the more times you get to throw the dice.

4) Francois Allaire.  The Leafs' goaltending coach arguably developed the modern style of goaltending while guiding two goalies (Roy and Giguere) to Stanley Cups. If anyone can help a young goalie maximize his potential, it’s this guy - give him enough chances to work some magic and I’m expecting at least one result worthy of David Blaine.

5) Francois Allaire is not Vesa Toskala.

So while the current Leafs squad might not be contending for Cup anytime soon, Burke did assemble a group that might just produce a goalie capable of taking us there.


The Meatriarchy said...

I would hardly describe Burke as beleaguered at this point in his tenure as Leafs GM. Let alone "much beleaguered". Perhaps you meant maligned?

Certainly some of his moves have drawn criticism but really the only move he has made that could be seriously debated is the Kessel deal and the subsequent non-trading of Kaberle which has been the fallout of the original Kaberle/Khadri for Kessel deal that was nixed.

Everything else he has done from my perspective has been exactly what the team needed. We may not have all the right players in place to make a serious run for the Cup or even the playoffs but the man has to be commended for cleaning up the mess he inherited.

Getting rid of Blake, Toskala, Stajan, and Mayers and the ensuing return was masterful.

Hardly the work of someone who is beleaguered.

Brendan T said...

@ Meatriarchy

Certainly Burke's housecleaning last year was exactly what the Leafs needed. But I think most people felt it was the necessary first step to putting the Leafs in a position where they could get the help they so desperately needed up front.

Unfortunately, nothing really happened this offseason to address that need - Versteeg is a decent addition, but hardly game-changing. As a result, I feel that most of the recent criticism levelled at Burke doesn't result from the moves he made last year, but rather his inability to capitalize on those moves this offseason.

So you might say that people have a short memory, but I wouldn't say Burke is being 'maligned'. I agree with you that he put himself in a good position to rebuild last year, but it's just a shame that we'll have to wait another year to see any windfall from those moves.

The Meatriarchy said...

Nothing has happened yet to address the needs up front fully. However the addition of Versteeg and Armstrong is an upgrade from the forward group that started from training camp last year.

Also I believe Burke is waiting to see how Khadri looks in training camp. If the kid is ready to play centre in the bigs then we are already better off.

While the shortcomings at forward are well documented remember the problem last year was keeping the puck out of our net. Most of that has been addressed with the addition of JS Giguere and the departure of Toskala. But also people forget that past January 31 when Burke pulled the trigger the PK went from dead last in the league to a pace that put them in the top five.

Add to that the return of a healthy Mike Komisarek and a bulked up (235 lbs!!) Luke Schenn and I look for a drastic improvement on the defensive side of the puck this year. To me that is the critical impovement Burke has made - and he has said quite clearly that he builds from the back out.

There are still some free agents kicking about who might come cheaper when training camp starts and there is still the possibility that a cap strapped team might be willing to part with a scoring forward to get out from under an onerous contract (Marc Savard).

Point being Burke's quest to improve the team didn't stop cold when Kaberle's NTC kicked back in. Remember the Phaneuf and Giguere deals came completely out of nowhere so when you least expect it...

The Meatriarchy said...

Further to my comment about free agents coming cheaper hello Clarke MacArthur!