TLN Roundtable – Rebuild, Retool or Regroup?

The importance of the upcoming trade deadline and the upcoming offseason can’t be stressed enough. The Maple Leafs organization is at a crossroads – they’re not good enough, they’re out of cash, and they don’t have a lot of assets. The next decade of Leafs hockey largely hinges on whether Brendan Shanahan, President of the Maple Leafs, decides to strip down the roster and rebuild, shake things up a bit and retool, or stick with what he has and attempt to regroup.

We asked our TLN writers what Shanahan should do…

Ryan Fancey

It’s being reported from the trustworthy insiders that the Leafs are looking to move on from Phaneuf, which says to me they’re either retooling or rebuilding. I have a hard time believing they go full-on tank and burn it to the ground, but I think they might keep Kessel and cut it off there, then do whatever they can to ditch guys like Phaneuf, Clarkson, Lupul and Bozak as they’re in decline. 

Returns on those players will be minimal, but they really need to get things rolling and see where they stand, so they can try to accumulate some picks in the top sixty of this draft – right now they only have one. Clearing out some dead weight cap hits and bringing in a good haul at the draft this summer would be a nice start to the turnaround, and I think they’re capable of that with Dubas, Hunter and Shanny calling the shots.

Jon Steitzer

While nothing would make me happier than to argue for the much needed rebuild, I’m going add a dash of reality into my expectations are say they will go the retool route. Unfortunately, the much needed rebuild would overlap with the 2017 Leafs centennial, and I can’t see MLSE wanted the celebration spoiled by being out of the playoff hunt by November. So odds are we are looking at about a year and half of legitimate attempts of improving the hockey team before the mandate is changed to signing Lucic to a horrible UFA deal if he hasn’t already been acquired for an excessive number of high draft picks.

The downside to the retool is the speed at which it needs to happen, and building a nice prospect pool will give way to acquiring serviceable NHLers. It also means major moves need to start happening yesterday. The upside is the untouchables of the organization are still extremely limited. Rielly and Nylander shouldn’t be going anywhere in any situation, but with a retooling, it’s also much more obvious you don’t trade Phil Kessel. Beyond that, you’re still burning it to the ground.

Bobby Cappucino

MLSE may not want to admit it to themselves, but the Leafs need a full rebuild. They’ve been trying to retool and regroup for a decade and it hasn’t worked. Sure, a couple of players could make the Leafs a bottom-half playoff team (maybe). But long-term success and chances at a Cup are going to involve some time and a lot of work. Maybe fans would be upset for a bit, but they’ll be just as upset if they continue to feel as hopeless as they do now. It’s going to suck to have a team in the basement, but draft some talented kids and people will be excited – hell, I was at a Nylander’s first preseason game for the Leafs this year and the crowd was buzzing all game long. In addition to the kids, ship off some veterans for some picks and prospects, and even look at what you can get for Kessel, JVR, and the like. You could start a nice rebuild with the returns for those guys. And let’s be real – there are very few untouchables in this organization.  

MLSE isn’t going to lose money if they rebuild – the ACC will still sell out. But build this team properly and MLSE will see the $$$$ in their eyes when the Leafs are consistently in the playoffs. It benefits the companies and the fans to finally do this right. Rip the band-aid off and let our healing begin. 

Shawn Reis

The Leafs need to rebuild.  At the end of the day, the only goal should be a Stanley Cup. With the way the team is constructed now, they’ll be hard-pressed to turn themselves into contenders. The team has tried to take shortcuts and ignore hard truths, and in the process have wasted away some of the better years of guys like Lupul, Phaneuf, and even Phil Kessel. The team is in a bad salary cap situation with contracts like David Clarkson and to some degree Phaneuf’s holding the team down. The prospect pool is thin with very few players serving as legitimate threats to make an impact for this team one day and the Leafs have only made 11 draft picks in the last 2 years. Only two of those picks were made in the first 2 rounds.  And maybe above all else, the Leafs are still largely inadequate down the middle and on the blueline. The Leafs lack a first-line center and Morgan Rielly is the team’s only hope at a franchise defenseman. 

Simply put, the puzzle is missing pieces. And given the wavelength that some of the players are on, and considering the lack of young talent coming up through the system, there’s no way the Leafs can scrape a contender together. The reality is that they need to start again from scratch and do this thing the right way. No shortcuts, no panic moves, no boat anchors. Be honest, be critical, and be creative. It won’t be easy, but it’s the road the team needs to take.

  • Benjamin

    Well said guys. No one can make a reasonable argument that this isn’t a re-tool/re-build scenario. The difference between the two is largely semantics, both mean accepting short term failure in order to build not only long term success but also the processes necessary to sustain that success.

    The question then becomes, when do you set your sights for the future? When do you aim to be turning things around and start yielding the fruits of good drafting, development and cap flexibility, and icing a consistently competitive playoff hockey team?

    I think we aim for 3-4 years down the road, when Reilly and Nylander are roughly entering their prime. You can then start to build around them, exercise sound asset management and patiently work to get the other pieces in place.

    Looking 3-4 years down the road, it becomes a little easier to stomach the Clarkson contract. You can take your time turning assets like Bozak, Lupul and Phaneuf into young players and draft picks that fit within the timeline. And you can exercise a lot of patience with prime assets like Kessel and JVR, guys that should be generating a big return if they’re moved at all. You can also take on some bad contracts in the short term in exchange for picks and prospects (like the Franson trade awhile back).

    What we do right now is pretty simple. Trade off the pending UFAs for what you can. I like Franson, Winnik and Santorelli but they simply aren’t going to be a part of the upswing in 3-4 years. In a masochistic way they’re also a barrier to a better draft pick.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Good summation, though I have lost track of the synonyms for overhaul. The consensus is for some form of rebuild, depending on what you can get for what you are putting on the table.

    After the nightmare of the last four years, we all — the locker room as much as any — want a new narrative. The pain is now utterly senseless; there’s no way, anymore, to justify it as part of some learning process that never happened. Last year, Carlyle said something revealing: He thought the team lacked identity.

    He was right. You can’t win if you don’t know what your team identity is.

    There’s too much wrong at the core to recreate one with it. And though I was for a long time a Phaneuf supporter, he’s done. And he can fetch the Leafs some good prospects.

    Kessel is worth keeping, but management needs to do what Burke and Nonis did not do, which is get him the right centerman. But if you aren’t going to do that, then let him go too.

    Rielly, Nylander, and Kadri are keepers.

  • FlareKnight

    I would have said “just nuke it” but rebuild sounds fine as well.

    Whether management comprehends this is another question, but for the sake of my sanity I’ll pretend they do. No matter what plans they have for 2017, they have to rebuild this. The exhaustion and frustration has boiled over for the fanbase. People are literally just not watching the games. The lack of viewership is the one thing that is sending a message to the Leafs and frankly the NHL in general (feel free to rig that lotto to get everyone back and watching Bettman).

    1 playoff appearance since the cap was instituted. They messed it up and got it wrong. The only thing to do is burn it down as best you can and try again. I honestly think moving Kessel would be the smarter move and accelerate the rebuild with guys in the same age group. But that’s probably too bold a move.

    I just hope MLSE gets that there is no hope right now, no anticipation going forward. They can’t win the cup with this group, they can’t even make the playoffs with this group. Change it up and try again.

  • Jeremy Ian

    I couldn’t agree anymore with this article and the contributing writers. The time has finally come for a REAL (rebuild/retool) and I think the fans for once are on the same boat with that idea. Maybe it’s because McDavid is available at this draft (not like the Leafs will get him, unless some higher deity takes pity on us Leafs fans) but there’s a real excitement. If it wasn’t for this draft coming up then maybe people wouldn’t be so down for the idea of rebuilding. Who knows, but now is the time to sell the whole rebuilding idea to fans. In terms of what they can actually get for any of the players right now at the deadline, it’s probably not a very good return. Patience will be key like mentioned above in the comments since all the GM’s around the league know the Leafs position right now, so no doubt they’re getting low-balled badly. Whatever happens from here to next season, lets just hope the awful, awful patch work is over with, because right now… this quilt is looking mighty ugly.

  • silentbob

    Retooling is changing and building up the supporting cast around a good core group of pkayers, like what the Hawks did after losing Byfuglien, Ladd, Versteeg, Barker etc….. Rebuilding is what you do when you are missing a good core group of players.

    The leafs do not have a good core group that can challenge the best in the NHL. Our best simply do not match up with the Kings best or thd Hawks best or the Ducks best or the lightnings best etc…. The leafs NEED a full on rebuild, that isn’t even a question. Does Shanahan have the guts and/or power to do it is the question.

  • FlareKnight

    I think a re-tool will be in order. Management should be looking to move Phaneuf, Lupul and Bozak as the guys with longer deals. They also have value.

    Clarkson is a given to be moved if you can find a dance partner. Gardiner I could see moving if it means addressing the centre ice or getting a player in the same age range. Franson and the collective of UFAs are givens as well.

    Kadri, JVR, and Kessel should stay in terms of current players to build with upfront. Reilly and Bernier are locks to stay from the blueline back. You still need leaders for the young players to learn from and keep the pressure off of while they develop, Edmonton would have been better doing this.

    I think the goal is to acquire draft picks and young assests that are already in development – names like Pearson, Toffoli, O’Reilly, and sometimes Yakupov. I don’t think an Oilers type rebuild is needed, just a changing of core players and new faces.

    Teams like Tampa, Minnesota, and Columbus are examples of drafting and develop, insulate/surround with some top end guys and vets, and adding pieces that make sense through trade or free agency.