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Some Day 1 UFA Maple Leaf (and NHL) reflections

Expectations had pretty much been driven down to zero by the time July 1 rolled around, so I don’t sense that, broadly speaking, Maple Leaf supporters were terribly surprised by the organization’s relatively quiet day on Sunday.  (Obvious caveat:  things may have changed by the team your read this…)  Fans always hope, and want to think the team will surprise us with a big-name signing, or catch a wave and somehow steal a high-end ‘plugger’ that slipped under the radar—and at a modest cap cost.  But deep down, our expectations were no doubt quite modest.

In terms of what the Leafs did do, I was happy to see the team re-sign Ryan Hamilton.  I was thrilled for Hamilton that he got into his first NHL game at long last this past season.  He is a fine captain with the Marlies, and a good example for young players coming into the Leaf system.  He works extremely hard and it’s important that our draft choices see what it takes to earn a spot here.

Rynnas re-signing is seemingly not big news, but it provides ongoing goaltending insurance.  We have an abundance of young goalies in the system and you can never have enough netminders. (We all understand that one or two ultimately have to emerge as either Leaf mainstays or as useful trade fodder, but goalie development doesn’t happen overnight, of course. Someone may soon step up…)

The McClement signing is interesting.  I acknowledge I do not have a strong view of the move, or of what the veteran forward will bring, other than what most observers who don’t see him play regularly know about him.  He seems to be one of those “reliable” defensive players, though I’d prefer he came to town as a guy who has been a ‘plus’ player throughout his career, which doesn’t seem to be the case, given a cursory look at his “numbers”.  My only concern is that, as I have opined here on more than one occasion, we had about ten or more players last season who I thought were essentially (at best) third or fourth-liners. (We don’t have a fifth line, do we?) McClement fits as another role guy, and I don’t know how many more of those we need, unless they are difference-making “bottom-six” types.  Some teams seem to have those guys.  We don’t.

Those who check out VLM somewhat regularly know I like Frattin’s potential as a long-term Leaf.  Whether he becomes a classic power-forward or not, he can skate, goes to the net (and as I’ve also mentioned in the past, I love the fact that he can make plays from his off-wing) pretty hard and just seems to be a guy who will improve bit by bit to become a fairly complete NHL’er.  So signing him for two years, while not a surprise, works for me.

I’m assuming the Leafs are in on a number of guys, and we’ll see how things unfold in the days ahead.  There may be trades, of course, and some interesting free-agent signings could still be in front of us.  But one of the more fascinating elements of Day One of the UFA circus was how some ex-Leafs fared.  Popular Colby Armstrong landed with the Habs (that should be fun next season- wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the ice when the talkative winger lines up against his old blue and white teammates?).  He had an uneven two-year stint here, and leaves with, probably, a touch of frustration that his role was reduced to next-to-nothing under Carlyle.  (He played less than five minutes some nights…)  Whether it will matter or not I don‘t know, but he will no doubt be particularly amped up when he plays the Maple Leafs next season.

I was pleased to see Jonas Gustavsson jump to the Red Wings.  When I heard the Leafs had traded him to the Jets, I just didn’t see it as a fit for him.  He must have felt the same way.  The Wings clearly saw something when they scouted him.  There are other low-cost goalies out there they could have signed instead.  Now, whether he will win the back-up job in Detroit or end up in Grand Rapids, I have no idea.  (Don’t know what his waiver eligibility status is, either.)  But the Wings do use their back-up goalies, and I’ll be interested to see if he is as capable as I have thought he could be, in the right environment.  I’ve written here often (maybe too often, for some readers) that I felt Gus was messed around by the coaching staff and management in Toronto, their public “words” of support aside.  When an athlete, especially a goaltender, can’t find his confidence—and correctly senses that he does not have the confidence of those around him—it’s a disaster.  And in the end, Gustavsson should have been a better goalie (and worth a lot more than what the Leafs now end up with, which is nothing) than he was after three years in a good organization that knows how to develop talent.  Anyway, I won’t try to debate the issue.  Some think he just played poorly here and has no future, while others agree with my perspective.  He’s an ex-Leaf now, and I wish him well.  He had a dignity about him, and I appreciate that quality in athletes, especially when it seems so easy for them to behave otherwise nowadays.

Keith Aulie—who I maintain will be a capable NHL defenseman and moving him will prove to be a bad trade for the Leafs, just my opinion—also re-signed with the Lightning.  I’ll be watching to see if he can stay with the big club this coming season, or will spend time in the minors working his way up the depth chart.  He’s still very young for a defenseman with height and size.

John Mitchell, who surprised a lot of Leaf observers by being a useful fourth-liner for a very good Rangers team this past season, is now with the Avalanche.  Ponikarovsky has moved again, signing to play with his old Leaf pal, Antropov, in Winnipeg.  And late in the day, energetic Joey Crabb accepted a deal with the Capitals.

(I know he never played for the Leafs, but it’s always a bit of a dagger to read that Rask is signing a new contract…he’ll be with Boston next season, and for probably a lot longer than that.)

Some players who may have been a nice short-term fit for the Leafs signed elsewhere.  Ryan Smith stayed with the Oilers.  Paul Gaustad re-signed in Nashville.  Travis Moen re-signed with the Habs.  Brandon Prust moved from the Rangers to Montreal.  (While they might have been nice additions, the cost would likely have been prohibitive, and as I mentioned above, the Leafs already have tons of fourth-line guys, though probably not any like Prust or Gaustad…)

One thing I couldn’t help but notice on “opening day” was that teams signing ‘tough-guys’ was the order of the day.  The list was pretty long, as players—and teams—acted like they were playing musical chairs, as I mentioned on Twitter, and no one wanted to be left standing without a contract…or an enforcer.  The names I noticed (some can do more than fight, of course…) included: Prust, Konopka, Brookbank, MacIntyre, Asham, Carkner, Parros, Boulton and Rome.

Gauging how teams did on Day One of free-agency is akin to making proclamations on the day of the entry draft, or when a big trade is completed.  We never really know how things will play out over time.  But if I had to guess who did well when the gun went off on Sunday, I’d say the Red Wings did.  I like that they brought in Tootoo, who, if he can keep his game together, should prove to be a useful asset for a team that has kind of lacked old-school toughness in recent years.  They’ve done OK without an enforcer, but he should be helpful during the regular season and can certainly play a driving, physical game that would help most teams.  And Samuelsson may have something left.  If so, he will add some finesse to a team that already has a fair bit of that in Detroit.  If Gustavsson becomes a capable back-up, then the Wings may have invested prudently—and well—regardless of whether Suter joins the fold.

Again, I’m loathe to jump to conclusions this early in the summer, and this early in the free-agency process.  The Leafs filled one hole (potentially) with Komarov and another with van Riemsdyk, but my enthusiasm is on hold until I’ve seen him play well and stay healthy for an extended period of time.  I thought Versteeg would be solid here—and he had a Cup on his resume before we quickly sent him out of town.

Otherwise, there is, as we’ve noted here already, plenty of work still to do.  Burke told the media late Sunday that goaltending, getting bigger and upgrades at the center position are the team’s needs/priorities.  Sadly, the priorities are not much (if at all) different from when he took over almost four years ago.  Whether Burke’s newfound patience (versus his “I have no patience for a five-year rebuild” bluster—which by the way, will prove to be longer than five years before the Leafs are a really competitive team…)  will become his hallmark from now on, I don’t know.  But that patience will only be rewarded—and applauded by the Leaf faithful—if his asset management approach grows real fruit before too much more time passes. 

It’s great to have lots of prospects.  But if you can’t convince free-agent superstars to come here, and won’t part with your assets to bring in established stars in a trade, at some point, those young “assets” that you've built up have to become actual big-time contributors at the NHL level. Otherwise, this has all been just  another “blueprint” gone wanting….


  1. I have suspected that next July 1 (2013) has been on BB's radar for a long time and that he expects to realize some value for the expiring contracts for this coming season. As a result, and on the heals of Army's early departure, I would expect (hopefully) early trades next season when Lombardi and Connolly have had a short time to show something that makes them tradeable (not saying one or both might not go during the summer, either, but it will be in anticipation of some usefulness in their final contract year). And... unless Komi is on Carlyle's radar as a reclamation project for a new defensive system, I imagine he could go, too. Nothing too earth-shattering here.

    A more notable point respecting these expiring contracts and the likes of Gus (who, along with Schenn, Aulie and others do seem to have been mishandled) is that it almost seems like they were more likely 'sacrificial lambs' who were thrown in the deep end to sink or swim (or expected to handle carrying others in the deep end, when referencing the Free Agent signings).

    I doubt Schenn or Komisarek were expected to be lost in this process, nevertheless, that appears to be the result. I wonder if the stop-gap measures we have watched over the last 3 1/2 years are beginning to wind down for this rebuild and are transitioning into a period where the upcoming prospects will be able to fill in after a little more and decent development time (that was not afforded to their pre-'deceasors').

  2. I think Burke not being a supporter of front-loaded, long-term contracts and no-trade clauses for legitimate star players are one big reason why we are not further along with the project of turning into contenders. Whether you like those kinds of contracts or not, it's a solemn fact that they are there, and the stars are going to get them. I fully understand the risks involved, but even if things go awry and the signed star struggles or gats plagued by injuries, it's more likely that he's willing to waive and some other franchise is ready to take the bait when the contract needs to be unloaded, than it is with, say, Colby Armstrong's $3M with one year left.

    While Burke makes his stance on his moral high ground regarding such deals, he's not only limiting his own options, but helping the other cap teams by staying out of the signature race. We might still point and laugh at Wade Redden deal (not sure he ever was a star), but the fact remains that his contract is not a problem for the Rangers.

    Burke might still go after Luongo, which is not something I'm too keen on, but if he does and makes the deal, he'll be taking on exactly the kind of a contract he's been so much against in the past, and to me that would reek of hypocrisy, after not being seriously involved in the sweepstakes for Kovy, Richards and Parise.

    Coaches run their teams, GMs run their franchises, and both are in danger of being left behind if they can't, or are unwilling to, keep up with the times. It definitely happened to Wilson here, and it well might happen to Burke as well, if he remains unwilling to play the game following his own rules, instead of those everyone else plays by.

    I have nothing against a rebuild, I was fully expecting it at first when Burke was announced, but like you've said, we are still nowhere near of being contenders, and indeed seem to be spinning our wheels in a limbo between a rebuild and something else. Now, I know our current situation is not what Burke had planned. But he does need to figure out what some other GMs are doing better than he is, rather than keep doing what he believes everyone else should do as well. And soon, too.

  3. I suspect you are on the money, InTimeFor62, that Burke is looking at next summer as a time when (and a also time when the team should be closer to being a legitimate "contender") potentially valuable pieces will be available in free-agency.

    Whether he is able to attract those big names to this market, that I;m not so sure about. (He hasn't been able to bring anywhere here as yet who is a difference-maker in free-agency.)

    I do wonder what they can hope t get back for Connolly, Komisarek, Lombardi, et al. Armstrong is an example- they simply had to eat the contract when, I assume, they could not trade him for younger pieces. (I winder if he was one of the guys who would have supposedly attracted a good draft choice at the trade deadline?)

    I think we are indeed into a completely different "phase" of the ongoing re-build, where Burke's earlier desire to get better right away has been replaced by a new-found patience. I only hope that the brass has not mistakenly fallen in love with their own prospects, and over-value them to the point that they freeze and don't pull the trigger on moves that could help the team, because they are reluctant to let go of "their own".

    We'll see.

  4. Great post, CGLN. I nodded along throughout.

    I've never quite understood (though I understand the intent) the phrase "between a rock and a hard place", but that seems to be where Burke has placed himself between his a) early bluster upon arriving in Toronto b) his inability, so far at least, to procure big-name free-agents and c) as you state, his rigid stance on what ought to be instead of what actually is.

    I don't like the way athletes are over-paid. (Haven't liked it for more than 30 years now...) and, like Burke, dislike the front-loaded, ridiculously long-term deals- regardless of the cap, though I recognize the cap is a huge part of managing your roster. But if your job is to build a winner, you have to find a way to merge your "principles" with reality. Burke is seemingly caught at times between his public stances and (as I mentioned to InTimeFor62) being unwilling to move his own carefully accrued prospects, and can't make certain moves as a result.

  5. One of the areas Burke plans to address is the goaltending situation. Much of the discussion in Leafland has been focused on Luongo - some want him some don't. I was looking at the list of free agent goaltenders and noticed Johan Hedberg's name on the list. He has played decently as a backup to Marty and is presumably comfortable with such a role. He is 39 and would provide a veteran presence for Reimer & Scrivens and wouldn't expect a long term deal. Isn't this what we need? Do you think he is on Burke's radar?

  6. My guess Ed is that Burke is looking at any number of options, including someone like Hedberg. Some commentators here have indicated that Reimer and Scrivens are of out waiver options, and if so, that may complicate things a bit. But I think everything is on the table for now...

  7. Michael, I completely agree with your view on overpaying athletes, or indeed anyone. However, professional sports is business, as they say, and businesses provide products and services. The product, which is the Leafs playing hockey, has been largely reinvented from what Burke was handed when he took over. Only one thing remains; the product is still failing after all this time, under the care of a man who is, himself, the highest paid GM in the league. Overpaid?

    I'm afraid Burke is too afraid to lose face to take the humble pill and admit that he has to play the game. If he did, there would be people who'd call him a spineless turncoat and a windbag. For me, it takes a lot more spine to admit you were wrong and climb down your high horse than staying up there. Burke wouldn't need to issue a press conference and proclaim he needs to adjust his approach (although he might), he'd just need to do it.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me, more and more, that Burke sees criticism more as attacks against his person than something to filter and learn from. As a result his stance becomes ever more rigid, and that is not helping anyone. If the man has his principles, fine, I can respect that. But, and I'm sure Burke knows this, when those principles are preventing him from doing a good job, the man is entering a breakwater. He can't forever keep on having his cake and eating it, too.

  8. That's precisely where Burke "is", CGLN- fighting between his ego, his instincts and his "principles" and the reality of the job he has to do.

    I've said here many times. I think Burke is a good hockey man. But simply because he won a Cup with a team that Bryan Murray had built up, and made a steal of a trade to get Phaneuf, that does not make him an elite GM. There are many outstanding GM's in the league (none is perfect, including Lamoriello) like Poile, Tallon, Shero, Holland and others. But somehow Burke gets elevated in people's minds. Not sure why. As I've mentioned here, when you actually look at his record in his two "re-build" projects- Vancouver and Toronto- he has won a total of 1 playoff round in like 11 years.

  9. CGLN made a lot of very good points. Burke, unlike other GM's is truly applying the Cap as it was intended, and his "moral high ground" is admirable, but leaving him at a disadvantage. As you've mentioned, when all these Leaf contracts end at the end of next year, will FA's find Toronto to be an attractive place to play? Will Toronto be willing to spend the bucks to sign these FA's? Will Burke still have a job with the Leafs if they have yet another disappointing season?

    Some additional thoughts on a few players:

    McClement - We'll see how he does in a Leafs uniform, but I seem to recall the Leafs signing another 3rd or 4th line center from Colorado last year who also was supposed to be good on the PK. I hope McClement is a big step up over Dupuis.

    Frattin - Glad he re-signed and hope he gets some quality minutes. If he does, he can be a top-6 forward.

    Connolly - Last year was a disappointment given his early injury problems, and changing linemates. I'd like to believe that this being a "contract" year for him, he might step it up and play to his potential. There is a log-jam at center, and either he is looking at some time on the wing, or being packaged in a trade.

    Bozak - Despite using him as such, Bozak is not a #1 center. Still, without some changes in personnel or philosophy, Bozak will probably be used as a #1 center again. Grabo has the #2 spot locked up. So where do we put the likes of Connolly, Colborne, Lombardi, McClement, and Steckel?

    Gustavsson - I agree with you Michael that Detroit may be a good fit for the monster. They make excellent use of their back-ups and the team plays a sound defensive-zone system that keeps shots to a minimum. Jonas could do well there and restore some self-confidence.

    Burke supposedly is going to try and address the shortcomings of the team via the trade route. So lets wait and see what he is able to achieve. As you and CGLN have said, the holes (shortcomings) in this team have existed for many years now, and Burke has not addressed those as yet. He now has assets to trade, so hopefully he gets it done. The patience of the fans and media is getting thin.

  10. You raise very fair questions, TML__fan. While next year may be a "banner year" for free-agents, that means little if the Leafs are not, for whatever reason, a desirable destination.

    The organization's now "patient" approach is fine- whether it is principle-based or not. Most fans would probably have preferred hearing those words a few years ago rather than now, but regardless of philosophy, principles, hubris, etc. the expectation is that, by now, we would have a contending team, not just a playoff team.

    Perhaps we will jump that middle hurdle and go right to being a contender. But we have not demonstrated we are in that league yet- not even close, really.

    Thanks TML__fan. Very well said.

  11. I think it's fairly easy to assess why Burke gets eleveted in the eyy of the public. He genuinely is a stand-up guy, who does a lot of community work in, and expects that from those under him as well; his image is one of an alpha male who is not afraid to speak his mind, and his masculinity is under no doubt for attending a pride parade in memory of his late and beloved son. These are all admirable traits that people easily gravitate to, or at least make them hesitant to criticize him in any capacity.

    I'll never blame Burke for not working hard enough, I don't think the man has less than full torque in anything he does; it's his effectiveness, or rather lack thereof, I'm questioning. I'm more than willing to let him see out his contract here, as firing him now is unlikely to make much of a difference anyway. But if he wants and gets an extension and keeps on walking down the path of infinite frustration, I'll probably lose my normally upbeat and optimistic attitude. Yes, the last bit was sarcasm.

  12. I'm with you on all the above counts, CGLN.

    We should applaud Burke- as we would anyone in any walk of life, or in any vocation, who stands up publicly for what they treasure and hold as personal values, including family relationships.

    And there is no question he works at his job. He seems too be a proud and driven man, as many "successful" people are.

    What we are talking about, as they always do in professional sports (how often are we told, "this is a result-oriented business"...), is results. If those come, that's as we have expected. If not, like any other General Manager, he will be assessed accordingly. That's only fair.

    What I would prefer is that, while he can be a "stand-up" guy, that there was more humility and less unnecessary bluster on team issues. But again, that's me, others feel differently.

    Thanks CGLN.

  13. Have to agree completely with what CGLN says above. A guy like Parise would be a welcome addition to this team, however, Burke will take us out of the competition because he insists on not offering the types of contracts that players like this will receive from the more competitive teams.
    I often wish we had a Paul Holmgren type of GM. The Flyers finished dead last in 2007 and were back in the playoffs the following year. He is not afraid to take chances and has shown that long term contracts can be disposed of just as easily as any other.
    I am not sure what we are doing in Toronto. This has become almost a third world destination for free agents. It's a little embarassing.
    Signing McClement, seriously? Another bottom 6 guy to solve our pk woes. Isn't that why we went and got Dupuis? I would have rather seen Konopka here, we could use the toughness and the guy never loses a faceoff when it matters.
    July 1st and the trade deadline used to be the two best days of the year. Now that is gone with all of the elite players being locked up long term. Therefore, when one does go to market you'd better be in on it because it may not happen again for quite a while.

  14. That's a sobering but fair assessment, cbh747.

    There is no question Burke has tried hard to improve this team, but while improvements have been made, we are still a long ways from being a high-end team. Yes, it "takes time", but as you note (and as I have posted here many times before), other struggling franchises really have done a lot more in a lot less time, and not always by paying insane amounts for free-agents.

  15. You are spot on, Michael. Burke needs more "do" and less "say", as it is. And TML_fan brought up an issue I've been wrapping my head around lately; Toronto as a market for the star player. Any ambitious and confident player should relish a chance to play for a storied franchise such as ours, but currently it's just not that simple. Why is that?

    I understand the city itself offers as much as pretty much anywhere in the world when thinking of "a habitat", so no points off there. I've never been, though I hope to, at some point. You'll be recognized a lot, but if you're a very, very private person, you're probably not a star player, anyway.

    The Leafs, then? One of the Original Six, 13 Stanley Cups, who wouldn't want to be a part of a team to bring the next one? That's right, not too many players' hands rose to that question.

    Near-future prospects? Oh, right, that's where it gets to us. We lack in quality, skill, toughness, size, and pretty much everything besides cap space, because we have two or three fourth lines.

    So there's a margin of success in today's Leafs, but a very slim one. The line between a loser and a contender can sometimes be one drawn across still water, but Burke has kept a strict policy of overpaying only bottom-six forwards and second- and third-pairing defencemen, and that is biggest reason why Toronto might not be the place to go for a star player. You need to show business to do business, and ours has been a business of watching while others are showing and doing.

    Here's what I'd do; I'd offer Alex Semin 7 years, 6 millions per. Basically a risk-free offer because of KHL's presence in the world of hockey today. We'd get a guy loaded with skill and talent, but always had to play second fiddle to Ovie in Washington. If it turns sour, you could bet he'd go for the KHL, absolutely. While drafting Russian players has again turned into a gamble it was back in the 80's and early 90's, taking one who is already in the NHL is actually a pretty low-risk deal. Also, I think Leafs could use an enigmatic Russian presence no matter how it turned out. We could certainly use a baggage of skill that Semin would bring along. Summer's for dreaming, right?

  16. CGLN, I think I described Semin last week as someone who was an incredible natural talent, but the kind of player who would make fans (and coaches) want to hammer their own heads against a wall. That said, the scenario you describe is not far-fetched. I wonder if some team would go three years on Semin?

    As I discussed above with Ed, I don't doubt Burke is looking at every available option to improve this team.

  17. As a European fan, who is beginning to just now fully appreciate the lure of KHL for those willing to take a chance, I'd give 6-for-7 to Semin with a light heart. He's exactly the kind of player who revels in the limelight, and who could easily be persuaded to go back to Russia if it wasn't working out, simply because KHL craves for skilled star players, especially Russian ones. There is no cash limit spent on potential star players for that league.

    But I think Semin could make it in Toronto. He loves attention, and his skill level is Kessel+1. I think Kessel would be happier with a bit less media focus on him, and Semin, while not a physical player per se, is just plain pretty strong physically, and good at controlling and rotating the puck. Enigmatic? Absolutely. Talented? Hell yeah. Take a gamble, and if it doesn't work out, ship him to KHL. These things are doable, and nobody will lose face where it matters.

    We don't have an abundance of players who just plain want the puck, and that's not a good thing, because there simply is no better defence than having, and controlling, the puck. Semin can rotate possession and he can keep possession in corners. The problem is, he's not a Carlyle player, nor a Burke player. Still, for me, he's the sleeper "big deal" of this summer if he can find the right fit.

  18. Not a Burke/Carlyle type, no, CGLN, but as you say, infinitely talented.

    We'll see if this is on the "radar".....

  19. I am tired of people saying the leafs are no where near being contenders as if that is an un contested fact. In my eyes a team who is fighting for 4th and 5th in the east in January and Febuary has got to be somewhat close to contending.

  20. CGLN has it right in his last comment. Why the heck is Toronto such a no go for talented free agents? Why does it seem like we can only sign plugs or guys who have worn out thier welcome on previous teams? In all I have read this off season the Leafs aren't even a long shot at the big names. This is just a sad commentary on where the rest of the league sees TO and thier prospects going forward. Even Schultz would rather sign with a team that has finished 30,30,29 in the last three years than go to Toronto. Schultz may or may not pan out but the simple fact is he sees Edmonton's future as brighter and better that TO's. The only move of signifigance so far is the JVR/Schenn trade, which quite frankly is simply moving one high draft pick for another high draft pick both of whom failed to live up to potential (for whatever reason). A lot of Burke defendes say he has restocked the prospect list and things will work out. Well the last time I checked the Leafs were the 8th best (this was last season, so may be out of date) ranked farm system. Good yes, but still barely in the top third of the league. This is what passes for success nowadays in Toronto? I am really disheartned but what I see happening so far. Another year out of the playoffs is far more likely than not. Sigh.

  21. Every fan has their own perspective, Anon, and if you see the Leafs as contenders, then you have tour own reasons for feeling that way.

    Some of us look at the picture differently, and that is what's great about being a fan- we all look at things differently.

  22. I think it's fair to say, Willbur, that as much as we Leaf fans would like to believe Toronto is a desired destination (and as CGLN points out above, has many of the qualities you would think free-agents would enjoy), it apparently is not.

    Burke may hit a home run soon, but for now, we are left to "judge" his efforts based on his results here, and his present plan. The bottom line is there is hope, but not a clear indication that they have turned a corner.

  23. 4th or 5th in January or February is flash in the pan, anon; not making the playoffs since the last CBA negotiations is worth nothing. If you feel staying above the line early in the year makes for a contender, fine. I don't think it's fine or even close. Playoff pairings are decided after 82 regular season games, and we're nowhere close based on that standard.

    The Stanley Cup is the one standard above any others in the NHL. No true fan supports their chosen team with a lesser goal. If being above the line in January/Faebruary is some kind of a standard of excellence, I must be supporting the wrong franchise. The Florida Panthers fell in double overtime to the eventual Cup finalists, the Devils, in the first round of playoffs, where the teams that actually are contenders, play. And it was game seven, when the franchise that had not made playoffs for a decade before finally bowed out. There is pride in that, pride, that just doesn't come along with losing from March on just doesn't bring.

    My Leafs need to be there; I need them to be there. Win or lose, I'll never be happy telling my friends "we were still competing in January and February, and then it all just kind of went down the toilet". Expletives were deleted, there.

    This is, after all, The Toronto Maple Leafs. Mediocrity should no longer be accepted as Ballard is dead and sky (and salary cap) are the only limiting factors.

  24. As I said to Anon, CGLN, everyone has their own views, and that's fine. That's part of being a fan.

    From my perspective, I'm with you. The bar has been too low in Toronto for the last 8 or so years. We should never be looking at "making the playoffs" as a standard for success.

  25. I think that there are several reasons why it is so difficult to attract free agents.

    1. Media. Toronto and Montreal have the most media coverage and therefore the most scrutiny upon their players. This may be something that the player can overlook but it may not be so easy for their families.

    2. The team is usually not very good. Not much chance of winning a championship in Toronto.

    3. Climate. All things being equal I would rather go golfing after practice rather than go tobogganing.

    4. For those that are attention seekers then New York or L.A. is the place. We are diverse but Toronto is not the place to rub shoulders with other "celebrities".

    5. Taxes. Welcome to Ontario Canada. Just to make it worse we now have the NDP tax on those that earn too much.

    Toronto is on a parallel with places like Columbus and Buffalo. Sad but true. And for those that choose a place like Edmonton over Toronto, I would suggest that there would be a better program in place for a young player. I would not want to play for Carlyle or Wilson.

    Free agency should be where we make a difference. We have all the money in the world, we don't have to give up anything to sign players. However, since Cujo there has been no prominent player arriving of their own free will.

    Toronto is a storied franchise indeed, however, until such a time as they indicate that they will do everything possible to win then I would imagine that it will continue to be a hard sell. And sooner rather than later the fans will begin to lose patience. I know that I have.

  26. I can't argue with your observations, cbh747. This should be a premier destination for hockey players, but it has not been for a long time, unfortunately.

  27. Everyone should have their own view, that is fine with me. But the Leafs are, or at least should be, more than that. My Leafs fandom started here in Finland, before the internet was there, reading news from the text-tv or some such, when all the hockey media in Finland was convinced that Jari Kurri was the only thing happening in the NHL any Finnish person should be concerned about.

    I dug out the news, I looked up the results, and it was a *BIG* bother, but yeah, then I discovered the nice moustached young gentleman named Wendel Clark. And since then, I'm a Leafs fan, because Wendel said so.

    I digress, once again, probably not the last time if anyone will listen, but Michael, your blog is the single place I enjoy putting my thoughts on hockey forwads in. No need for fighting, yours is a place for disagreements and discourse.

    Not too many of those left.

  28. Thanks CGLN- the intention is for VLM to always be a place where we can "talk Leafs" and hockey and share honest views, whether we agree or not. And it's great, as an aside, that we have thoughtful input from Leaf fans in the southern U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Russia and many, many more locations. And it's because Leaf fans are everywhere!

    As long as we do it respectfully, it works for me.

  29. I previously alluded to the changes I anticipate BB expects to see in the new CBA - that being a cap on the term of contracts. I also feel that BB has aspirations to replace Gary Bettman (whenever he retires from his position at the top). It would be unlikely that BB could garner that role, unless he proves himself to remain true to the direction that the NHL intends to pursue.

    I believe 'we' may think BB to be obtuse, missing out on a perfectly (presently) 'acceptable' method of bringing caphits down by adding questionable years at the end. However, it appears to me that this may well be part of the hidden agenda that baffles us whenever the high profile Free Agents become available in the marketplace. If this agenda/perspective has any legs, I believe we will see this borne out in the owners' emphasis on this topic during the CBA negotiations.

    There may well be other lesser elements (that seem to be BB hobby horses) which we may also identify more clearly in a similar fashion to what I've said above.

    An area that I'd like to see addressed in the CBA (that ties in to the pending attempt to rework/diminish the player percentage of revenues from 57% to 50%) would be a PR win-win scenario and something that the NHL could provide as a leadership model to other sports.

    The idea pertains to excising the aforementioned 7% into a fund that addresses the concerns of players and owners alike. Sort of like an 'in-house' insurance system.

    Some of the uses could pertain to career-ending injuries, where the player contract could be paid out from the fund at, say 60% of it's value (rather than contributing to higher general insurance premiums for those who are able to recover from their injuries). The cap hit could be removed from the team in question to allow for a future resolution to the loss of said asset. Perhaps injuries that result from illegal plays (concussions, etc) could result in adding a draft pick at the end of a pre-classified round that would function as compensation for the loss.

    I can see all kinds of opportunity for making win-win solutions for both sides in the new CBA and I hope we will see something like this as an alternative to the messy confrontational nature of most collective bargaining. Perhaps such solutions could provide food for thought in union-management negotiations beyond sports!

  30. There are some 'out of the box' concepts there, InTimeFor62- and very interesting ones at that.

    I had not thought of Burke along those lines, but it makes sense, that, as a former college and minor-league player, lawyer, player-agent, NHL disciplinarian and of course GM, he has the background for the post.

    Perhaps, as you mention, these negotiations will actually consider the hopes and aspirations of owners and players (and fans!) while allowing for creative ways to utilize funds. There is plenty of money "out there" to ensure everyone in the game is well looked after financially, and in terms of health and safety as well.

    Thanks for an insightful post, InTimeFor62.

  31. cbh747 made reference to a number of reasons why Toronto may not be a premier destination for Free Agents, namely, number 5. Taxes. This is another thought I've been considering since I saw a chart over at PensionPlanPuppets (sorry, can't remember who posted it there) wherein Montreal was 30th (i.e. highest tax bite) and Toronto/Winnipeg were duking it out for 28th and 29th in the years covered by the charts.

    Perhaps this is another area where the playing field could be levelled somewhat. Given all the revenue that Leaf fans bring to the NHL's revenue sharing, perhaps something could be done to give us a fair shot at free agents (even Montreal *spit* will benefit - Corner Gas reference).

    Here's another area that the 7% solution could address (or perhaps it would be part of league revenue sharing, but in any case): why not make a yearly assessment of the value of a contract in all 30 markets (based upon a standard/ bottom line NET salary basis) for every player, then pool the excess after the lowest standard is set in whichever market, and redistribute the remainder evenly between each of the players in each wage category.

    Of course, those living in Florida or Alberta, might choose to receive their share immediately while living in a low-tax environment however, anyone could just as easily defer payment into a pension fund for retirement (when earnings and taxes will be diminished), if living in one of the higher tax environments. Perhaps this would serve to help players in their transition to retirement (whether forced by injury or father time).

  32. I respect any idea that will help with athlete transition to life after sports, InTimeFor62. It's a huge issue.

    (And I caught the reference to Corner Gas!)

  33. Why isn't Toronto attractive to top quality free agents? It seems to me that they are looking for a team where they can win a Cup. How do they determine which team has that potential? It seems to me that it is a team that has its act together with a strong supporting cast up front, on defence and/or in the net. Until you build that, how do you attract the "stars"?
    We seem to think Burke can attract a big name player without providing the infrastructure to support success.
    I believe he is on the right track by trying to put a solid supporting cast in place. Only then can he hope to attract a Nash or Parise or Suter to fill whatever final "hole" is there.
    Look at Parise-he is reportedly considering playing with Crosby in Pitt or Toews in Chi or Giroux in Phi. All teams with a demonstrably solid team and a chance for success. Also still involved with N J if money issues can be resolved by ownership.
    Suter is rumored to be keen on Detroit. Surprised?

    So I say that we need to relax and not worry about why the stars don't want to come to Toronto yet. It has nothing to do with the media, management, fans, city, money, etc. but at present it doesn't offer a chance to win a cup!
    First things first in my opinion. Unfortunately, that takes time.
    I realize that other teams seem to have progressed more quickly than the Leafs but the difference between teams these days seems pretty minuscule. All it will take is a good showing this year and perspectives will begin to change.
    Once it looks like there is a chance for success in Toronto, there will be no problem attracting the big names who want to be a hero and bring a long awaited Cup to Toronto.
    But then again I am an optimist! I wish Burke well over the summer.

  34. I hear you, Ed. I guess this is a classic Catch-22. The Leafs need to be a really good team to attract top players; they need top players to be a really good team!