James Tanner The Hockey Writers
You Can’t Trade Everyone: Maple Leafs Edition
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been active and appear to be nowhere close to finished as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This is a part of a very interesting plan that I, for one, find far more interesting than 90 percent of the games the team has played for the last 15 years.
Just think about this for a second: Alexander Ovechkin is 30. He has 500 goals and will hit 1000 points next October. He has been basically the face of the league (alongside Sidney Crosby) for so long that its hard to even remember when he wasn’t. And yet, if you look it up, you’ll see that the Leafs have not had a good team for even one good season during Ovechkin’s career so far.
You have to go back to a time where troglodyte barbarians weren’t taking pictures of their food in order to find a Leafs team that had a shot to do well in the playoffs.
The New Maple Leafs Management
I’ve been optimistic about every single management group the Leafs have ever had, only to end up terribly disappointed by the results. Whether or not our current leaders are going to be successful remains to be seen, but the fresh, forward-thinking approach that seems to be based on a combination of statistical analysis, traditional scouting and game theory is far more interesting than anything I’ve seen the team attempt in the past.What I especially like about this team is that they hired Brendan Shanahan. I was originally against the hiring. I assumed he would be an ex-player who follows the path of character, grit and the top-six/bottom-six mindset best exemplified by Brian Burke, but which has been perpetrated by every single Leafs GM. Basically: surround one or two star players with grit, toughness, size and character, then try to buy your way out of mistakes with draft picks and prospects because you’re always trying to “win now,” even when that’s not realistic.
Because Shanahan was a gritty player I unfairly assumed he’d be a nicer, less boisterous Burke and that the Leafs would continue on the treadmill of mediocrity. Shanahan however proved to be a genius by surrounding himself with a diverse group of people at different points of their careers, all of whom bring skills to the table that are — or at least seem to be — progressive and innovative.
Lou’s Role and the Plan
Lou Lamoriello gets underrated for his role too. As the aged veteran who you automatically think must be so old-school and intractable that his hiring couldn’t possibly be a good thing, it turns out that he is actually pretty awesome. An ex-math teacher whose success clearly comes from the fact that he listens to people and is open to new ideas, Lamoriello is wildly different than the picture I had of him when he was with the Devils. On top of which, he brings an unquantifiable amount of experience and teaching ability for the guys who’ll eventually run this team, or other NHL teams, as the case may be, in the future.
Lamoriello is also the rare guy in the NHL who goes his own way, and does things that people on the outside may not necessarily agree with. Brian Burke does the same, but Lamoriello doesn’t seem so antagonistic about it, which makes it seem like maybe he just knows better than others. Either way, I think the presence of a Hall of Fame builder and classic ‘lone-wolf’ of the NHL gives the Leafs a lot of latitude and leeway with the fans and — more importantly — the MLSE board of directors. That allows for a full-scale rebuild in a way that doesn’t seem like anyone has tried before.
I refer to their blatant signing of trade bait players to one-year deals, combined with using the might of the MLSE chequing account to stock-pile assets and the trading down of draft picks for quantity.
The Looming Deadline
I like what the Leafs are doing so far. It is important work in a season when they are in last place and it certainly makes it more fun than it might be otherwise. I hope there are a lot of trades to come, and, like everyone else, I am hoping there is at least one trade provides some kind of exciting return involving high picks or name-players.
That being said, you can’t trade everyone. If you look at the management group, you have a senior citizen, two middle-aged guys and one who is very young for the role he has. I suspect that if the Leafs are to end up building a good team, part of the reason is that it’s smart to have people of diverse age groups coming together to make decisions.
I would be willing to bet that this also applies to a hockey team. You must have players of all different ages on the team to be successful. So, while Nazem Kadri might well be 30 before the Leafs are a contender, in order to not get caved in and lose a soul-crushing amount of games during the coming seasons, they need effective players in the prime of their careers.
That is why Kadri and Jake Gardiner are integral to the Leafs right now. You could reasonably add in Leo Komarov, James van Riemsdyk and James Reimer to this list, but you don’t need all five. You need two or three of them, then maybe sign a couple older guys in the off-season and away you go.
The point is, you can’t cash every single one of your players in for prospects or it really will be five years before you see a playoff game. At that point it’s entirely possible that your team is psychologically crippled and needs to be rebuild again, which I think might be the case with Edmonton.
So, the Leafs should definitely be keeping Kadri and Gardiner.
Thanks for reading.
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