Friday, January 18, 2008

A Hockey-Related Reason For Toronto's Problems

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not doing very well this season. They have a record of 18-29 (with eight losses counted as regulation ties), which has them third from last in the NHL. It is well known that GM John Ferguson Jr is on the outs with ownership. Richard Peddie, the Leafs President was on record that hiring of John Ferguson Jr as GM was a mistake. He said this in November. It is now passed the middle of January and Ferguson remains GM. The Leafs have been openly looking for a candidate to replace Ferguson on an interim basis, but Ferguson remains GM. In a dysfunctional environment like that, it is clear that building a winning hockey team is nearly impossible.

Putting aside the ridiculous situation in management of the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is a simple hockey-related reason the team is doing poorly. That reason is the draft. Toronto has not drafted well. In fact the only players who Toronto drafted who have made an impact (for the sake of argument we will define playing 25 games so far this year as making an impact) in the NHL on any team (not only Toronto) so far this season are Tomas Kaberle (1996 pick 204), Nik Antropov (1998 pick 10), Alexei Ponikarovsky (1998 pick 87), Brad Boyes (2000 pick 24 a St Louis Blue), Kyle Wellwood (2001 pick 134), Alex Steen (2002 pick 24), Matt Stajan (2002 pick 57) and Ian White (2002 pick 191). There are eight Toronto draft picks who have made an impact anywhere in the NHL this season. Only eight! One of them is not Leaf property (Brad Boyes). He was traded in part of a package to obtain Owen Nolan from San Jose. Nolan is also not Leaf property anymore.

A good team would have picked at least twice as many impact NHL players. The problems are that the Leafs have been constantly in search of the "final piece of the puzzle" to complete their winning team. This myth is a poor way to build any team. The Leafs have acquired many final pieces but have not made it close to the Stanley Cup in years. The pieces they traded away to obtain these final pieces have usually been futures. Draft picks who might have been able to make an impact if the Leafs kept them. This has been a problem that is independent of GM. It happened under Cliff Fletcher, Ken Dryden, Pat Quinn and John Ferguson Jr. After years of chasing a mythical final piece and paying in the future, the lack of a future has become the present.

Toronto needs to rebuild. They need to have some patience and forward thinking when they do it. Obviously the team won't be winning right now. There is no way to change that. Find a good hockey man. Put him in place as president and GM and leave him alone to right the ship. Until that happens Toronto will remain an also ran.

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