The Maple Leafs have grown accustomed to the muckraking by the media in the team’s recent, inglorious past.
But the “proper” rebuild seems to be in effect, and the media appear to have bought in.
The organization has traded away the majority of its veterans, opting for younger players and stocking up draft picks.
Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel never seemed to enjoy the luxury of being given the benefit of the doubt now being afforded to Babcock, Lamoriello, Shanahan and company.
They are perfect examples of the media’s past readiness to serve the city’s voracious appetite for failed or fading sports stars.
As in the early years of the Burke-Wilson era, the media has eased its hair-trigger approach in criticizing the franchise. The target has been moved from the Leafs’ back, at least for the time being.
The city seems to be genuinely optimistic about this team’s future. The Toronto media are aware of the excitement surrounding the Leafs, and are reflecting the fans’ renewed sense of patience during the growing pains.
“They’re still 3 to 5 years away from being a quality team.” – Jamie McLennan
That’s not to say there won’t be criticism along the way.The type of “rebuild” the Leafs experienced under Brian Burke, in which he started his tenure trading away two first and one second round pick – one of which turned into Tyler Seguin, and the other Dougie Hamilton – is over.
The band-aid style rebuilds are all too familiar here in the Big Smoke. But the current iteration seems to be a true bottoming-out.
This has been made possible by the ousting of the Burke regime, and ushering in of Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello over place-holder Dave Nonis.
Add in the acquisition of Mike Babcock and you have a staff and culture shift over the last year that is truly remarkable.
Notable departures during Shanahan-Lamoriello reign:
- Dion Phaneuf
- Phil Kessel
- James Reimer
- Daniel Winnik
- Roman Polak
Leafs kids shine as rebuild continues in Toronto. Listen here:
The ghosts of Leafs’ past are materializing yet again in another season at the bottom of the standings. However, this year may finally be different.
The old-guard has been replaced with young blood, as rookies William Nylander, Zach Hyman, and Nikita Soshnikov look to make their mark on a rebuilding franchise.
“They’re putting their stamp on the organization by going young.” – Jamie McLennan
Contributions by the “kids” so far this season:
- Nylander – 2 G
- Hyman – 2 G
- Soshnikov – 2 G, 1 A
The puck doesn’t stop at the aforementioned three
The proverbial Leafs cupboard has and continues to be stocked. Prospects abound throughout the Leafs organization, both on the big club and in their farm system.
Other notable prospects include:
- Mitch Marner
- Kasperi Kapanen
- Connor Brown
- Garret Sparks
- Stuart Percy
- Josh Leivo
- TJ Brennan
- Connor Carrick
These prospects are supplemented by a wealth of picks in the next several entry drafts, including 12 picks in 2016 and 8 in 2017.
Leafs should emulate Chicago, not Edmonton model
The Chicago Blackhawks have built, like most successful franchises, through the draft. Acquisitions such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were snagged as top picks after many painful years in the Windy City.
However, top picks alone do not make a franchise. Smart selections in the second and later rounds are imperative to lasting success. Here are some key draft picks who contributed to one or more of the Blackhawks last three Stanley Cups:
- Duncan Keith – 2nd round
- Corey Crawford – 2nd round
- Dave Bolland – 2nd round
- Brandon Saad – 2nd round
- Bryan Bickell – 2nd round
- Nicklas Hjalmarsson – 4th round
- Andrew Shaw – 5th round
- Dustin Byfuglien – 8th round
The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, have had a plethora of top first round picks in recent years. Many of them are already top-tier NHL players. Here are a handful of their many high draft selections:
The problem Edmonton faces is its supporting cast, not front-end talent. The Oilers do not have the same level of depth top clubs like the Blackhawks enjoy.
This is the reason they find themselves near the bottom of the standings yet again.
The Leafs need to be more like the Chicago Blackhawks, and less like the Edmonton Oilers.