Lessons from Los Angeles

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.

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  • Danny Gray

    Agree with everything here. My only quibble is that both Quick and Neimi were/are due for raises, those guys weren’t being paid even RFA market value. That being said I’m happy Burke didn’t shell out for Bryzgalov.

    I’m really on board the trade for Thornton or Marleau train right now.

  • RexLibris

    Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed seeing the Kings win from the Leafs perspective and what areas, specifically, the team needs to address.

    1.) Hasn’t Toronto been trying to acquire them through the open market for the past few years? This hasn’t gone terribly well. I would argue that the Leafs would be best served by improving their amateur scouting department and then focusing on drafting their next star rather than expecting it to be handed to them through trade.

    I know that this has been Burke’s area of strength over the course of his career, but even the championship he won was built through a balance of draft and trade. The equation in Toronto appears too lopsided towards the latter.

    2. Agreed, but this would mean that the management team would have to pay attention to those advanced statistics of which Burke has been so critical.

    3. Absolutely. Which makes the Leafs’ moves this off-season all the more interesting.

    4. Very interested in what you feel would be his market value. I’m an Oilers fan and am always curious what the perception of some of the players is outside of this media market.

    For my money I’d rather see him traded along with another prospect to garner a top-ten pick.

    5. Definitely room for improvement here. Calgary boasts a terrific goaltender and some decent bottom six forwards. The Leafs have defense and some good top six scoring options.

    Perhaps the GTA ought to have incorporated Calgary as well?


  • RexLibris

    @Danny Gray

    What does Thorton or Marleay cost the Leafs though?

    If I’m Wilson in San Jose I’m taking this team apart over the summer and turning the page. The group hasn’t been able to turn the corner in several years and this may be the last best chance to trade either of those players for a decent return.

    I suspect Burke would be loathe to move his 1st round pick for Thornton, so do the names of Colborne, Franson, and Kadri begin to come up?

    Adding Thornton, Schultz (assumed), and a goaltender like Luongo (debatable and not popular, I know) would certainly commit the Leafs to a particular direction and make for some happy media members.

  • I’m not sure you want to look at just one team, or even just champions, when trying to figure out a “model” for building a contender. I’d look at teams who are consistently in the top 6 overall in the regular season over several years, and see if there are any similarities there. Why? Well, we know from many “president’s trophy curse” posts that the best indicator of playoff success is regular season success. It may happen that a lower seed ends up winning, but over the long haul, the higher seeds do better. LA is a lower seed, but I think it’s also been shown they aren’t a typical 8th seed, but that’s also a good reason not to just look at one team.

    Considering how hot goaltending can propel a team in the playoffs, that’s another reason to look at regular season success. If the goaltending is good (like Quick) it will carry over. If it is lucky (or hot, if you like, like Niemi), then it won’t.

    Even looking at just champions is potentially misleading. In addition to being good, you need luck to win the Cup. So overall, the difference between the teams in the final four is probably not related to how they’ve been built, but to how the puck bounces. Those teams are likely fairly evenly matched.

    In any case, the Leafs can probably learn from quite a few teams, considering where we are in the standings. Having good, cheap players who drive possession is a fairly good rule. You can probably overpay for some players. If you get a deal on a forward, it won’t hurt to overpay for a goalie. How you get them (draft, trade, FA) is probably not as relevant.