Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Young Goal Scoring on the Toronto Maple Leafs

These aren't your parents' Maple Leafs.  Heck, they aren't even your older sibling's Maple Leafs.  There has been so much turnover on this roster that our active leader in games played for the Leafs is Nikolai Kulemin.  That's right, 24 year old, Nikolai Kulemin. 

While what we've seen since Burke took the reigns of the team is far from a conventional rebuild, make no mistake -- it has been a rebuild.  The new-look Leafs haven't been built through the draft and the new GM made it clear when he took over the storied franchise that he had no interest in waiting that long.  The trade for Phil Kessel which saw two first round draft picks head out of town was a red flag for Leaf fans who had seen their team consistently shed youth for past-their-prime talent.  But look more closely; this is different.

None of Burke's moves have been used to bring in expiring talent.  He's brought in players who are peaking.  True, he seems to place a lower value on draft picks than most GMs around the league but youth, at a certain point, has diminishing returns.  Is being 20 considerably more valuable than being 23?  The trick is to have players for as many of their peak years as you possibly can.  If you can get a Joe Colborne, who is likely a year removed from the NHL, rather than a middling first round pick that is likely three years away (if ever) then what's more valuable? 

The results are beginning to show.  There are 25 players in the NHL who are 27 years old or younger that have 22 goals or more.  That means less than one per NHL team, on average.  The Leafs have three.  Here's the list.
  1. Stamkos (20) - 41 goals
  2. Kesler (26) - 33 goals
  3. Crosby (23) - 32 goals
  4. Corey Perry (25) - 31 goals
  5. Rick Nash (26) - 29 goals
  6. Bobby Ryan (23) - 29 goals
  7. Jeff Carter (26) - 28 goals
  8. Milan Lucic (22) - 27 goals
  9. Matt Moulson (27) - 27 goals
  10. Eric Staal (26) - 27 goals
  11. Phil Kessel (23) - 26 goals
  12. Logan Couture (21) - 25 goals
  13. Michael Grabner (23) - 25 goals
  14. Mikhail Grabovski (27) - 24 goals
  15. Alex Ovechkin (25) - 24 goals
  16. Drew Stafford (25) - 24 goals
  17. David Backes (26) - 23 goals
  18. David Jones (26) - 23 goals
  19. Andrew Ladd (25) - 23 goals
  20. John Tavares (20) - 23 goals
  21. Jonathan Toews (22) - 23 goals
  22. Thomas Vanek (27) - 23 goals
  23. Nikolai Kulemin (24) - 22 goals
  24. Alexander Semin (26) - 22 goals
  25. Jeff Skinner (18) - 22 goals
That's some pretty darn good company for Kessel, Grabovski and Kulemin to be keeping.

The plan is starting to unfold for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Roster churn is slowing down.  Despite the interest expressed in Grabovski and MacArthur at the trade deadline, they're still Leafs - and for good reason.  (ed note:  Puckin' Eh! just did a great piece looking at these guys' production in detail) 

For all of our flaws, the Leafs have some of the best young goal scorers in the league and all three of these guys are on contracts ranging from reasonable to exceptional.  They're in the primes of their careers and as the years pass and the team around them improves, it's reasonable to expect that their production wont be significantly worse.  This isn't Eric Lindros with his faulty brain or Jason Allison and his laboured stride.  It's not Jeff O'Neill or Joe Nieuwendyk or any of the other regressing stars who have donned the Maple Leaf over the past 15 years. 

These guys are the here and now, but they're also the five years from now.  The foundation of the team is taking form and it's not the dried mud we've become accustomed to - it's made of concrete and built to last.

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1 comment:

Leafschatter said...

Burke's approach reminds me of Philadelphia Flyers on their way to winning two Stanley Cups and Alberta/Edmonton Oilers on their way to being WHA Avco Cup finalists and then NHL Stanley Cup finalists and champions.

Both teams targeted young top prospect forwards that other teams gave up on before these players reached their prime years of 24 to 26 years old.

You can look them up:
Philadelphia - Reg Leach & Rick MacLeish
Edmonton - Ron Chipperfield, Dennis Sobchuk, & Ken Linseman

Of course, these moves don't alway work out. We can easily list the flops. The point being, you can quickly recover from the flops if you keep the funnel flowing.