When a team is undergoing a transitional stage, IE. rebuilding, an organization usually fits under two categories:
- Young team still amassing more youth;
- Mixed team of veteran and youth that could go either way; full rebuild or merely "reloading"
It's probably safe to say the Leafs fit into the second category right now. The Leafs lie virtually in the middle in terms of average age at 27.71 years as of October 2008 (http://www.fromtherink.com/2008/10/24/641764/nhl-teams-by-age), but the Leafs also don't have a lot of guys over 31 years of age. And unlike a mixed team that is building around a young star or merely adding complementary pieces to star players in their prime, the Leafs don't yet have that catalyst. There are a few that could develop into nice core players and Luke Schenn has the potential to turn into that superstar, but at this point, the Leafs have a mish-mash of players who aren't guaranteed to remain on this team at the end of the season. And this is the riskiest position for a team to be in their so-called rebuild stage.
I think there's an inherent danger to do a complete overhaul by exchanging relatively young and established players for prospects and/or draft picks in exchange. The problem I see with the Leafs in terms of trades is that we don't have a group of older veteran players that are automatic and attractive trade bait. On one hand that's a great thing because the team is finally going younger with a goal to become better internally. But it also guarantees the team will take a step back, maybe several steps back, for the chance to get better. It just seems counter intuitive to trade young for even younger, or more accurately, players in their prime for players that need time and luck to *maybe* reach their ceiling.
Again, I'm of the mindset like many others that the Leafs have to be sellers at this year's deadline. But trading relatively young solid players for even younger, often undeveloped and maybe even worse, unknown commodities, makes it a pretty risky endeavour. It's why I always wonder whenever the MSM or even any fan, Leafs fan or not, mention blowing up the team if they're just willfully ignoring the crap shoot nature of such a proposition. Who's to say that players like Nik Antropov, Tomas Kaberle or Lee Stempniak won't be the perfect players the team needs when all those other younger players finally start to click? Tomas Kaberle is the perfect player that illustrates this whole issue. Although his play of late is really putting a huge damper on my argument, regardless, Kaberle is still arguably the best Leafs player and at the very least, the player who can bring in the most assets. But trading him away creates a huge void on the blue line for that ever so important puck-moving, offense starting defenseman. Maybe the Leafs have such a player in their system already, but either way, the Leafs will have to spend resources and perhaps more importantly, the Leafs will have to spend time to find a player who at the very least matches Kaberle's production. Kaberle is still one of the top offensive defenseman in the game, and many teams would love to have a player of his calibre on their roster.
I have confidence Brian Burke won't go the reload mode where he adds players for short-term success like his predecessor, but his job isn't any easier in any case. While Cliff Fletcher did a phenomenal job in his second coming, it does have to be noted that he managed to rid a lot of guys at their lowest values. Obviously, it's arguable that those ex-players would have ever improved their play with the Leafs, but I can't remember the last time the Leafs capitalized on trading a player at their highest value in a long while. The best solution? Figure out a way to get guys like Kaberle and Vesa Toskala playing on full-cylinders again and have the entire team play better. That may only get the Leafs playing .500 hockey, but that's fine. The worst thing this team can do is overreact to a slump and start a firesale with no rhyme or reason and think that getting prospects and/or draft picks are fail-safe moves that will automatically improve the Leafs.