Monday, July 30, 2012

Building to 2013: Technically Not A 5-Year Rebuild

After 7 consecutive years of failing to qualify for the post-season, it’s fair to characterize the mood of devout leaf fans as pessimistic - and that’s probably putting it mildly. Much like the promises of idealist politicians, we’ve been subjected to nearly a decade of speeches from team management with promises of ‘this time will be different’. While we all take great joy in pointing proverbial finger and using revisionist history to lord our superior intellect over MLSE brass, it would appear that finally, perhaps mercifully, this coming year will be different. More specifically, this coming offseason will be different.

With the Blue Jays and Raptors in a perpetual state of rebuild (although the Jays have been a .500 team for almost a decade, and are plagued by an archaic MLB playoff structure, don’t get me started) it’s understandable that we Torontonians have grown tired waiting another season for success. I won’t pretend to know exactly how long Jays or Raps fan will have to wait, but for us, the 2013 offseason could be the crescendo of Brian Burke’s tenure as Leafs' GM.
Upon arriving in Toronto, Burke made strong statements about the forthcoming truculence of the team he would assemble, and the voracity with which the team would approach yearly free agency, memorably referring to it as “our draft”.
Since then the term ‘truculence’ has taken on a more pejorative tone, as the media and fans lament the Leafs' lack of toughness and size throughout the lineup. Likewise the promise of big name free agent signings has gone unfulfilled with misses on Ilya Kovalchuk, Brad Richards, and the Sedin brothers (who never actually become UFAs, leaving Burke with an expensive plane ticket to Sweden to visit one Jonas Gustavsson) to name a few.
We've all been quick to judge, and in some instances to mock, Brian Burke for his many rules and ideologies; a self imposed trade embargo during the Christmas holidays and rallying against the long term, cap circumventing contracts of Kovalchuk, Luongo, Richards, and Weber, to name a few. However, Burke has quietly put the team in an enviable position heading into the 2013 free agent market, with a substantial amount of cap space.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's The Point of This CBA Exactly?

Labour uncertainty is the topic of the day for fans of the NHL with the threat of a lockout hanging over our heads once again.  It wasn't so long ago that we were forced to sit through a winter without hockey and now we're forced to ask, "for what?"

At the time, I was more or less on board with a lot of what the owners were saying.  Stability for existing franchises and competitive balance through a salary cap were things that I could get behind.

We've now played 7 seasons of hockey under the current CBA and there are some things that certainly seem broken to the casual eye.  The NHL has presented its initial offer to the NHLPA and after taking some time for sober refection, I find myself wondering if the first lockout accomplished anything at all.

As fans, we were consistently subjected to the words "cost certainty" and "parity" by Gary Bettman as the league sought to implement a salary cap while the players resisted -- this, we were told, was the reason there was no hockey.

Ultimately, the owners dug their heels in more deeply than the players and got more or less what they wanted while the players saw a 24% rollback in their salaries.  The salary cap was initially set at $39M and its year-over-year growth was tied to league revenues.

Since then, the cap has risen to over $70M with a salary floor over $54M and we find ourselves more or less at square one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Toronto Maple Leafs Offseason Expectations

There isn't much that's easier than being indignant on the internet.  A cursory glance through your Twitter feed will back this up, as will a look through the comments section on basically any online TSN article about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Perhaps the only thing that's easier is to explain away mistakes your team has made after the fact.  Fandom, in many cases, can breed an unwavering idolatry that can convince us to accept things that we probably shouldn't.

In an effort to keep myself honest, I try to enter every major period on the hockey calendar with a set of 'dream' and 'nightmare' scenarios pre-established.  What outcome would I see as a success?  What constitutes a failure?  These are questions I ask, and generally document, before the fact so that I can evaluate management decisions as dispassionately as possible.

With the NHL offseason halfway to its conclusion,  I thought I'd look at what my expectations were heading into the offseason and how close the Leafs are to achieving what I would define as a successful result.

The Draft

I published my dream and nightmare scenarios for the draft in mid-April and while the Leafs never had the opportunity to draft the player I had my eyes on, Alex Galchenyuk, they did land one of my three consolation prizes in Morgan Rielly.  The player the Leafs took in the second round, defenseman Matt Finn, is a guy I certainly did not expect them to even have a shot at with the 35th overall selection.

While it would have been great to land a high-ceiling forward who could slot into the lineup sooner rather than later, it's tough to have much of a problem with how things went down at the draft.  Short of having traded up, or possibly drafting Grigorenko, things couldn't have gone too much better.