How Cup Winners are Built, or Why Brian Burke's Way is the Wrong Way

July 1st is our draft.

This was a comment made by Brian Burke late last season when asked about what he'd do in the off-season without a 1st or 2nd round pick in the draft. This is the cornerstone idea behind the so called "Brian Burke Rebuild". Forget a slow rebuild based on embracing Tank Nation, drafting elite talent high in the draft, and filling in the gaps to create a winner. Burke wants to win now and believes that Toronto doesn't have the patience for a Chicago or Pittsburgh rebuild encompassing 5 to 6 years of bottom feeding. [Editor's Note: It has now been 2,401 days since the Leafs have played a playoff date. Patience!!!1]

Many on PPP and other Leafs blogs have called for others to give Burke some more time as he's only 2 years into his time as GM and has 4 more years until fruit would begin to bear. [Editor's Note: Ron Wilson said it would take six years when he got here. Burke should have heeded that call.] Now I'd be completely behind giving Burke more time if I felt he was on the right track with the team, but I don't feel that he is. Let me tell you why; Cup winners are not built through free agency. They simply aren't and any belief that they can be is a wrong one. As you may have gleaned from my not so subtle hints earlier, teams win Cups with their own drafted talent as the centerpiece of their teams.

Now how can I make such a bold statement? Well because I've done the research and compiled the stats. I looked at the rosters for the last 20 Cup Winners (Edmonton through Chicago) and found out who their Top 6 scoring forwards were (regular season), who their Top 4 defenseman by TOI/G and points were (regular season), and who their starting goalies were. Then I ran the numbers to see which of those players were drafted by their club, which were acquired via trades, which were acquired veteran free agents, which were signed as free agents out of college or Europe, and which were acquired on waivers.

The Spreadsheet - Cup Winners And How They Are Built

So going back for the past 20 years, a Cup winning team will have have a Top 6 forwards core like so: 3 fowards drafted, 2 acquired via trades, and 1 acquired in free agency of some sort. The only teams with less than 2 of their Top 6 being drafted? Montreal with 0 in 1993 (4 via trades) and NYR with 1 in 1994 (4 via trades). Again, as I alluded to, the Brian Burke mantra of drafting through free agency is a fallacy. Only two teams have won the Cup in the past 20 years with more than 2 free agents in their top 6; Pittsburgh in 2009 and Anaheim in 2007. (Of note: For the Ducks, only Teemu Selanne was acquired by Brian Burke.) Right now the Leafs Top 6 is composed thusly: 2 drafted (Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin), 3 traded for (Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg, and Mikhail Grabovski) and 1 free agent (Clarke MacArthur).

So what about defense? Well going back 3 of the Top 4 are either drafted or traded for (1.65 and 1.75) with the last player being a free agent. In fact, the only team to win the Cup in the last 20 years with more than 1 free agent defenseman were the Oilers in 1990 with Hubby and Gregg. The only teams to not have drafted a Top 4 defenseman? The Penguins in 92 and 93 and Burke's Ducks in 2007. And of those Top 4, only Scott Neidermayer was acquired in free agency. Right now the Leafs Top 4 is 2 drafted (Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle) and 2 free agents (Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin). If you think ahead to next year, only Schenn will be a drafted Top 4 defenseman.

Goalies however are a total crapshoot, either you draft them or you trade for them. But what you don't do is sign them in free agency as only 3 out of 20 got their top netminder that way, and really Chris Osgood was drafted by Detroit before they re-signed him as a free agent. The exception yet again? Brian Burke's 2007 Ducks who got Giguere as a free agent. [Author's Note: This is what happens when you ask PPP to review your work.]

This all means that if you want to win the Cup, you should probably build your team primarily via the draft, not free agency, and trade for the final pieces needed to make a run at the Cup. Brian Burke and his 2007 Ducks are the anomaly here and I think that bucking of tradition is coming back to bite the Maple Leafs in the butt. He got lucky being made GM of that team with Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Andy McDonald, Chris Kunitz, and Dustin Penner already in the system and having the cap space to be able to sign Scott Niedermayer and trade for Chris Pronger (He should also thank Edmonton's weather lady), but because of that luck he thinks he has a valid team building philosophy even though the past 20 years have proven that to not be the case. Now again Burke is attempting his free agency building scheme to the Leafs, and because a core of young skilled players wasn't already in place, the whole thing has fallen flat on its face. And with the current two year loss in 1st round picks, it doesn't look like the Leafs will be able to pick themselves back up for a long time.

Burke needs a change in philosophy or the Leafs need a change in the front office.

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