Inspiration: ‘How did the Kings get here‘ by Gabriel Desjardins.
Five simple key lessons to the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup win. How many principles do the Toronto Maple Leafs’ adhere to?
1. Prioritize your young superstars and look to acquire them on the open market.
Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were both acquired by trades, and those are probably the two most name-recognized players on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Both players were acquired facing certain mutual dissatisfaction with their previous club. On this principle, I think Burke understands the value of an NHL superstar and he did what he could to acquire top pieces.
Eight NHL players were point-a-game last season. Two of them were on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson are a legitimate top-pairing and Jake Gardiner made huge strides this season as a two-way defenceman. The Leafs’ problems don’t start at the top of their lineup.
2. Look for players with undervalued talents: faceoffs, defensive play vs tough competition, and particularly penalties drawn.
Ah, therein lies the rub.
When he first came to Toronto, Burke said he wanted a team with “the proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence.”
As good and economical at the five guys at the top of the Leafs’ lineup are (and second line even) the bottom six forwards and bottom three defencemen fall into one of three camps: ‘not very good’ ‘overpaid’ or ‘Matt Lombardi’ with the exception of Dave Steckel.
If the Leafs sought to make more deals for players like Dave Steckel, guys who can skate comfortably against tough competition and win faceoffs at bargain prices, they wouldn’t perhaps be in the contract pickle they are in.
3. Do not overpay for goaltending!
Well, this hasn’t been an issue. You can only hope that Burke doesn’t pull the trigger for Roberto Luongo. I think about a $5M cap hit is the absolute highest you want to pay for a goalie:
2012 LAK: Jonathan Quick – $1,800,000.00
2011 BOS: Tim Thomas – $5,000,000.00
2010 CHI: Antti Niemi – $826,875.00
2009 PIT: Marc-André Fleury – $5,000,000.00
4. Take short-term risks on players with good underlying numbers.
This is where you make a trade on draft day with Edmonton that includes a player named “Linus Omark”. There’s no risk, but the potential reward is an NHL player.
5. Make sure your bottom six can play. No goons.
Getting there. Jay Rosehill played 183 minutes but Colton Orr was sent down to the AHL in a much-publicized move. Mike Brown led the team with 10 fights (the team overall was 14th in the NHL with 35 scraps) but of all the players in the bottom six, he’s got some decent-enough ability in really limited minutes.
Burke’s bottom six problem isn’t about having too many goons, it’s how too many spots were given to veterans who can’t play hockey all that well.
Replace the bottom-six with minor-league guys who can play. Trade for a scoring centreman the second one appears on the block. Shed as much salary off the defence as possible. Don’t sink long-term money into a goaltender, whoever the next starting goaltender may be. Don’t assume the top guys are the problem.