As many of you may know by now, I am a grade school teacher. I was working with my students in Math yesterday but had to step out of the class for a few minutes, and they were being supervised by another teacher. We had been working on spatial reasoning using things called 'math manipulatives' (but what might more simply be called 'toys') and upon my return, some of my students had a surprise left for me on the floor:
I couldn't help but laugh. The lengths to which 13-year-old boys will go to subvert a Math lesson and trash talk the Leafs really know no bounds. There are only one or two Leafs fans in my class, and one of them piped up: "But Monsieur! Aren't you mad?" (I teach in a French school) "No," I reassured them, "the Leafs really do suck."
It was hard for many students (even the Habs and Sens fans) to understand how someone who clearly loved the Leafs so much could say such a thing, but there's no use in fighting it: the Leafs really do suck, and they're going to continue hoovering until some pretty serious changes occur.
Mr. Shanahan, tear down this team.
This plan was doomed to fail all along
Look, I have a good deal of respect for Brian Burke and the vision he had for the Leafs. He wanted a hard-skating, hard-hitting team like the ones that have been built in Los Angeles, Anaheim, and St. Louis (which is a fine goal to have), but I don't think that he always made the best long-term decisions.
"I'm not interested ... in a five year rebuild," Burke famously said. Well, five years came and went, and the team was hardly any better off. The Leafs are basically still playing with the same core of players that Burke put in place, with Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Joffrey Lupul all being Burke-era recruits in one form or another.
The thing is, Burke had a terrible weak spot for trying to fast-track things via free-agents, and those typically don't work out the way you need to build a Stanley Cup-contending team from scratch. There just isn't enough cap efficiency, there.
So the Leafs had some awful contracts, had to get rid of some awful contracts, and then had to take on some more awful contracts in order to get rid of the other terrible ones they signed. There was talent there in the Burke era, and the players were younger, which gave us some hope, but they were never good enough.
Dave Nonis took the helm after Burke was relieved of his duties, and has proceeded to continue making absolutely boneheaded decisions with regards to free agents and pending free agents, but has produced none of the good trades that the Burke era did. (I recognize that Nonis was involved in many of those trades, but where are they now?)
In short, the development has stalled because no elite players have been acquired via trade or free agency, and now the Leafs' core is getting old. We had a brief window where we were slightly hopeful for the future, but that's dead now.
There is bait to cut
Dion Phaneuf has got to go. I've never questioned Dion's leadership abilities, and still feel that he might be an interesting 1B option if next to a real superstar, but let's face it: that contract has got to go before he's totally unmovable. He might already be.
Joffrey Lupul should have been traded ages ago. He's extremely unlikely to ever produce at a point-per-game clip ever again, and his contract will only look worse with time.
Tyler Bozak should have been fired from a cannon years ago, and why he hasn't been is probably going to go down as one of the great mysteries in Leafs' mythology, second only to Bill Barilko's
curse plane crash.
Phil Kessel. Yup. He'll be past his prime shortly, and the Leafs might as well get a boatload in return for at least one of the players they ship out. I love Phil. But the Leafs need to start thinking about the future.
The untradables. If a GM could rid itself of David Clarkson's contract it would be nothing short of a miracle, even while retaining
salary bonus money. Leo Komarov? Love him, but he's earning too much money for his role. Stephane Robidas? Well, I've ranted about this contract before. If you can trade any of these players, do it yesterday.
Last but not least, let's give Dave Nonis and a few other front-orifice people the boot.
I'm cool with being patient if you are
Look, we've waited this long. What's another 5-6 years to do things the right way? Give William Nylander time to develop. Give Morgan Rielly a chance to grow. Maybe stop harping so much on Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson. Use that analytics team that we know can help. Listen to Kyle Dubas. Maybe don't hire some other former NHL-er just because he used to be a good player. Maybe just put Dubas in charge?
Mr. Shanahan, tear down this team.