Brian Burke joined the Leafs in November of 2008. When he joined the Leafs he insisted he has no interest in a 5 year rebuild and expected he could make the team competitive much sooner. Let’s evaluate how Burke has done in his tenure as GM of the Maple Leafs.
|GAA||3.08 (27th)||3.03 (27th)|
|SV%||89.3 (29th)||90.1 (24th)|
|GFA||2.74 (11th)||2.98 (6th)|
|PP||17.8% (15th)||20.6% (4th)|
|PK||78.0% (30th)||74.4% (30th)|
|Points||83 (12th in east)||89 (projected, 9th)|
Their overall offense is slightly better but their defense is the same sad defense we had prior to Burke. They are in the playoff hunt this season, but they are a dismal 13-15-3 in their last 32 games and showing little signs that if they can somehow squeak into the playoffs they can threaten to win a round. They have just 7 wins against teams currently in the playoffs and the only playoff team they have defeated since December 5th is the Detroit Red Wings.
Up until recently I have been a supporter of Brian Burke but to be perfectly honest he is growing weary on me. Yes, the team is younger, but no, it is not very much better. Yes, there is greater prospect depth, but I am doubtful any of them have the potential to become game changers in the NHL (i.e. dominant core players). He seems to think he has one of the best coaches in the NHL and gave him a contract extension but he also has talked recently about how he thinks his team is a playoff team and is only a player or two away from seriously challenging to be a top team that can make a lengthy playoff run. He loves to talk about how the Phaneuf trade changed the franchise around, but since the Phaneuf trade the Leafs are just 72-62-19 or the equivalent of an 87 point team. In the 6 seasons post lockout 87 points would get you 11th, 12th, 11th, 11th, 10th, and 10th. I don’t know about you, but I am not satisfied with a 10th-12th place team, or even a 9th place team.
Other Leaf fans like to talk about how young this team and the rebuilding process isn’t complete (despite Burke insisting he had no interest in a 5 year rebuild) but lets look at their ages and experience. I have included the top 18 skaters in total ice time this season and top 2 goalies.
Only Gardiner, Schenn and Reimer are under age 24. The majority of the team is aged 24-26 with a few players in their late 20′s and Liles topping out at 31. There are 12 players with 250+ games experience and 7 with 400+ games experience and only 4 players (both goalies, Frattin and Gardiner) have fewer than 100 games experience. This isn’t a team filled with rookies with little or no experience, it is a young team but with a fair bit of NHL experience with the majority of players in their prime years or just entering their prime years. Am I really expected to buy into the fact that this mediocre team of 24-29 year olds will suddenly become a great team of 26-31 year olds 2 years from now? I am not so certain.
Furthering that challenge is that Grabovski, Liles and Gustavsson are UFA’s after this season and after next season Connolly, Lupul, Lombardi, MacArthur, Armstrong, Bozak, and Steckel are UFA’s. That is 7 of your top 13 skaters in terms of ice time becoming UFA’s over the next 2 summers plus a handful of others. This doesn’t appear to be a core of players that can win now and a good chunk of the core could walk away as free agents should they choose to.
All this begs the question, where do the Leafs go from here? Do they stick with this core, re-signing the UFA’s and hope for the best, or do they admit that this completely revamped (from 3 years ago) team is only marginally better, still can’t keep the puck out of their own net, and may in fact need another significant overhaul? And if it is the latter, should we leave that up to Burke? To be fair, it is probably too early to pull the plug on this current Leaf team but from my perspective if Burke insists the problem is not the coach and the mediocrity continues, I am not sure how much longer we Leaf fans should wait.