Leafs in June - A Question of Sacrifice
The concept of being a Leaf fan is rather difficult for those who cheer for any team that doesn't wear blue and white. The difficulty stems with what you desire as a fan vs. what the organization intends to do. It's that intention that Leafs fans are sitting back anxiously awaiting as the next chapter - what to do next? With a team that has missed the playoffs every single season in the post-lockout chapter of the NHL's historical storybook, the Leafs are proving that relying on management to make the right decision, as least for a fan's perspective, is not an easy task.
We're not even going to get into the Ferguson Jr. era, or the era I like to refer to as "the years Peddie thought he could run a team," no, we're going to stick within the current mold of what the Leafs stand for - Brian Burke's Maple Leafs.
You need to remember that this team is nearly 100% different than the team Burke acquired when he was named the savior of the franchise. Ron Wilson was hired prior to his placement, but odds are he would have brought him in as the head coach, so it was only a matter of time for that disaster to take place. But the disaster itself was debated furiously until Wilson was ultimately removed from his post as the Leafs took a nose-dive beyond comprehension this February.
After that, the Leafs fell and took command of the 5th overall position - with promise. Yes, despite a terrible finish, specific players seemed to start playing their best hockey, and I'm referring mostly to Mike Komisarek. Which makes this off-season so intriguing.
The biggest question that lingers, and has lingered for the last few years, is whether this is the best this group has to offer, or whether it was the best they had to offer Ron Wilson and his "system". That system seemed to be "we suck, outscore your problems." And it has worked, just not enough to be a playoff team - and we saw through the Flyers this season that this system, by far, does not work.
Many applauded what Ron Wilson was able to achieve with this team for the first half of the season, and even went as far as to suggest he deserved to win the Jack Adams trophy for it. That is sarcasm to the extreme, but I understand where they are coming from.
Rany Carlyle seems to be the coach Brian Burke desires for a club with truculence (though the only truculence Leafs fans have been treated to is a large bus to the golf course), and with good reason as the pair won a cup in Anaheim only a half decade ago. But this is a completely different system. A new mold. And that means a new club is required to sustain the efforts.
The "old" new Leafs (Burke's team since taking over and reshaping) was built for a fast, small game intended to fit the Ron Wilson style. The "new" new Leafs (with the addition of Carlyle) will require more grit, size, and uh size. Something the Leafs have lacked since FOREVER.
Which begs the question - what now?
The Leafs are expected to make some mammoth changes in the form of half their roster, but we have some excellent talent coming through the pipeline as shown by the Toronto Marlies impressive post-season run (which continues today); however, the issue remains in size, and with a draft looming, size matters.
There are really only two top forwards in the draft, and then a question mark. Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko are potential locks as solid picks (probably the first time a draft has ever been this determined for Russians since Malkin/Ovechkin's year) and the question mark remains Alex Galchenyuk - a Russian born American and arguably the most talented player in the draft who was hindered by his near season-long injury for the 2011-2012 run.
But there are a ton of talented defencemen for the Leafs to choose from. Grigorenko is 6'3", but he's positioned in the top four. Galchenyuk is 6'2" but no one is certain he plays a gritty game or whether his body can handle it either. Outside of Grigorenko, it isn't until you move out of the top 10 that you find the size that will be part of this draft. Defenceman Cody Ceci is 6'2" and slotted at 11th, Griffin Reinhart is 6'3" and expected to head around the 12th selection, and Tom Wilson, the largest player in the first round is a bottom 10 pick with a 6'4", 200lbs frame.
But Toronto doesn't need a defenceman or wingers - or do they? If the full rehaul is expected, perhaps a new direction is exactly what this team needs, and they need to make sure they get the best player available at the draft, and not a player that best fits their hole.
A sacrifice in talent for position will be a grave mistake because, let's face it, in three years, we'll probably see the Leafs get completely re-hauled again - this time, let's have a true prospect to build it around.