FanPost

Are the Leafs Better Positioned than When Burke Took Over?

Editor's Note: The '67 Sound takes stock of what Brian Burke has done since taking over as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs in November of 2008. Share your thoughts about whether Burke's putting the Leafs on the right track or if things are headed down the wrong path.

The passing of the deadline is perhaps an appropriate moment to take stock of where we are. Brian Burke has been the GM since November 2008: two trade deadlines, the better parts of two NHL seasons, and one free agency season. He's turned over most of the roster and clearly put his stamp on his team. I have always believed that he knew what he was doing and had a plan to make this team better. A lot of people have suggested that he was given nothing and has been doing a good job with those negligible assets. Unfortunately, this trade deadline has led me to take stock of the team and how it compares to when Burke took over. Unfortunately I don't like what I see.

My analysis is driven by one principle: In a salary cap world, what matters most is whether your players are outperforming their contracts. To borrow mc79's line, NHL hockey is an efficiency contest: whose gets the most bang for their buck? Unlike baseball, we don't have the tools in hockey to assign an objective "value" to a player based on performance that can then be compared to his salary. I will therefore use this basic rule of thumb: if offered a player on his current contract for nothing, would the average smart GM take the player? If the player is overpaid (see: Blake, Jason; Finger, Jeff) the average smart GM would not and the player is an anchor. If the player is fairly or underpaid, the average smart GM would take him, and the player is an asset.

 Using this method, let's look at the Leafs roster at the time Burke took over, and again today. I'm leaving out of this analysis marginal, fungible players who really don't make much of a difference to winning or losing. I'm also leaving out recent draft picks since it's just too early to assess them, and I'm trying to analyze Burke's transactions, not his drafting. I've put players who show up on both lists in italics, as they can really be ignored for purposes of assessing Burke's changes.

November 2008

Assets:

Mikhail Grabovski

Tomas Kaberle

Luke Schenn

Carl Gunnarsson

Nikolai Kulemin

Viktor Stalberg (remember, he was a JFJ pick)

 Nik Antropov

Dominic Moore

Niklas Hagman

Alexei Ponikarovsky

Matt Stajan

Anton Stralman (3rd in TOI and 1st in points among CBJ defencemen this year)

Ian White

Jiri Tlusty (yes, a 20 yr old former first rounder averaging a ppg in the AHL is definitely an asset)

First round picks in 2009, 2010, 2011

Anchors:

Pavel Kubina (1 yr, $5MM)

Jeff Finger (3 yrs, $3.5MM)

Jason Blake (3 yrs, $4MM)

Vesa Toskala (2 yrs, $4MM)

Today

Assets:

Grabovski

Kaberle

Kulemin

Schenn

Gunnarsson

Stalberg

Phil Kessel

Nazem Kadri

Tyler Bozak

Christian Hanson

Luca Caputi

Francois Beauchemin

Keith Aulie

Jonas Gustavsson

Anchors:

Finger (2 yrs, $4MM)

Dion Phaneuf (4 yrs, $6.5MM) (yes, he's an anchor at that price and his demonstrated performance this year and last)

Mike Komisarek (4 yrs, $4.5MM) (yes, he's an anchor until he proves he's healthy and a total lock-down defender)

J.-S. Giguere (1 yr, $6MM) 

So are we better or worse off? It's obvious we're worse off at the NHL level, but what about in the long-run, as an organization? I'm not sure it's clear we're any better off. Start with the anchors. Putting aside Finger, who hasn't changed, we had $25MM committed over a combined 6 yrs to Kubina, Blake and Toskala. Now, we have $50MM committed over a combined 9 yrs to Phaneuf, Komisarek and Giguere. Yes, I'd rather have our current three on the basis of talent alone. But the price is much higher, and for longer. Plus Komisarek is damaged goods, having now had two straight seasons ruined by a bum shoulder. One could argue that unless Phaneuf regains his 2005-2006 form and becomes an asset, our anchors are more damaging to the team's long-term health than before Burke took over. HOwever, if Phaneuf gains his Norris-Trophy-candidate form, things turn around in a hurry.  That may the single most important issue for this team going forward. 

How about assets? Well, the three firsts turned into Kessel and Kadri. Putting them aside, along with holdovers, we had Antropov, Hagman, Poni, Stajan, Moore, Stralman, White, and Tlusty. That's four established "top 6" NHL players; a third line NHLer; a top 4 D; and a 20 yr-old point-per-game AHL player. Now? One potential top 6 guys (Bozak); a potential third liner (Hanson); a top 4 D who is paid so much I almost made him an anchor (Beauchemin); a potential top 6 D (Aulie); a 21 yr old averaging almost a point-per-game (Caputi); and a potential starting goalie who's an RFA (Monster). So in other words, again comparing only roster changes and ignoring holdovers, we have one quarter the top 6 guys. We've replaced Moore with Hanson, who has not yet proven he's as good as Moore. We've swapped Stralman for Beauchemin, and given their contracts (Stralman made under $750K this year and is an RFA), the Blue Jackets would laugh hysterically if we offered Beauchemin for Stralman straight up. We've swapped Tlusty for Caputi, who may or may not prove a better player (Tlusty performed better in the AHL at a younger age); and we've added Aulie and Monster. Overall, we have less NHL-ready assets, who are less advanced in their development.

That brings us to that little matter I put aside: Kessel. I've been a defender of that trade since day 1 but it's getting harder and harder. Kessel is a legitimate first line player but I don't think any of us believe he's ever going to be one of the top 10 players in the league. Best case? He's Petr Bondra. Don't get me wrong, Bondra was a great player, but if he's the best player on your team you're in trouble. And what did we give up? Probably top 3 picks in consecutive years to a division rival. Two shots at a franchise player we still don't have.  I'll bet anything that Burke thought those two picks would be in the 5-15 range.  If they had been, it's a great deal.  Now?  I'm not sure.

I understand that JFJ/Fletcher didn't exactly leave a stocked cupboard. But shouldn't we have more assets now, not less?

Maybe Phaneuf returns to form. Maybe some of these 2nd round and later picks we've been stocking will turn into something more than replaceable parts. Maybe Bozak and Caputi all turn into 60+ point guys. Maybe the Monster turns into Henrik Lundqvist. Maybe Burke turns Kaberle and spare parts into someone with franchise player potential.  But those are an awful lot of maybes. We've clearly made the organization much younger, but prospects don't always pan out. Right now I do not think it is at all clear that the organization is in a better place, and one can argue we're worse off.

And here's the kicker.  We still don't have any cap space.  Unless Finger and/or Kaberle are off the roster somehow, we basically only have enough space to fill up the roster with minimal salary guys because bonuses have to be counted towards the cap next year with the CBA expiring.  So you basically have to subtract $5MM off what capgeek.com tells you our cap space is. 

Please, please, somebody explain why I'm totally wrong in the comments and why I can hope for a playoff team by 2011/12.

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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