Toronto’s Overhaul

SensChirp May 1, 2013 0


Looking at the Leafs roster, a few things jump out at me. First, the team has only dressed 7 players this year that were drafted by the organization and all come out of just 3 different drafts.

Second, the Leafs has signed a lot of UFAs, including 3 undrafted rookies. Finally, it is downright confusing to keep track of the way this organization wheels and deals draft picks. After considering the above mentioned points, we’ll consider Toronto’s rebuild since the end of the 2007–08 season.

To say Toronto has rebuilt their roster since the end of the 07-08 season would be an understatement; not one player has played for the Leafs this season from that 2007-08 roster. This fact, as hard as it is to believe, highlights the transition that was underway after Toronto failed to reach the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive year after the 2004-05 lockout. By November of 2008, Mats Sundin and John Ferguson Jr were no longer a part of the Leafs organization while Brian Burke and Luke Schenn had just arrived. Burke vowed to take the team back into the playoffs, and despite a record of 129-135-42 as GM, it looks like Toronto is finally there (even if Burke isn’t).

So, what happened and how did it happen?

Well, it wasn’t drafting. Only 7 players drafted by the Leafs organization have suited up for the big club this year. Of them, Brian Burke’s lone pick, Nazem Kadri (1st, 2009), is having a breakout season while the rest are turning a few heads; Kulemin, Gunnarsson, Frattin, Komarov, Holzer and Reimer, all Leafs draft picks from 2006 and 2007, look to be solid complementary pieces. Despite finishing near the bottom of the league for 5 straight years after the summer of 2007, never besting a 22nd overall finish during that span, Toronto is practically without homegrown 1st round talent. To be fair, 2008 1st round pick Luke Schenn was traded for another 1st rounder in James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia, 2007) while Phil Kessel (1st, 2006) came over from Boston at the expense of two 1sts and a 2nd round pick (Seguin, Hamilton and Knight). Several other former 1st rounders were also acquired through trade, including Phaneuf (CGY, 2003), Lupul (ANA, 2002), Gardiner (ANA, 2008) and Colbourne (BOS, 2008).

Looking at the Leafs asset management, it becomes a little clearer that Toronto preferred to go the trade and UFA route in assembling their current roster.

While I loath to say it, Toronto hasn’t fared too badly in the asset management department. For example, in 2010 Toronto managed to land Dion Phaneuf for Matt Stajan and Ian White, former Leafs 2nd and 6th round draft picks from 2002. In 2011 Burke shipped defenseman Francois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffery Lupul and Jake Gardiner, and Thomas Kaberle to Boston for Colbourne, a 1st and 2nd round pick. Toronto managed to realize a few good returns on their draft picks, but also capitalized on the allure and money that the Leafs organization has to offer; while Kaberle was an 8th round selection by Toronto in 1996, Beauchemin and others came to the city via UFA signings.

7 UFAs signed by Toronto have suited up for the Leafs this season. Looking at the table, names like Bozak, MacArthur and Komisarek stand out. Some, like Tyler Bozak and Ben Scrivens, went undrafted before signing with the Leafs, while others (Komisarek and Orr) were probably attracted by Toronto’s willingness to overpay. Regardless, Toronto has managed to find role players through free agency, even if they’ve hit some stumbling blocks along the way.

This bringing us one step closer to understanding Toronto’s history of asset management.

The following few trades highlight the complexity of Toronto’s asset management over the past 5 years and beyond. When Toronto traded Kaberle to Boston, the Leafs received Joe Colbourne and two draft picks; Boston’s 1st round pick was packaged with Toronto’s 2nd in order for the Leafs to trade up and select Tyler Biggs 22nd overall at the 2011 draft. As a result, Anaheim used those picks to drafted Rickard Rakell and John Gibson. Toronto the used the remaining Boston pick, a 2nd in 2012, to trade for John-Michael Liles in Colorado (the pick would continue to change hands, passing through Washington before being used by Dallas). In the end, Boston got Kaberle, Toronto got Colbourne, Biggs and Liles, while Anaheim drafted Rakell and Gibson.

Another example begins in 2008, when Toronto traded their 2010 2nd round pick to Montreal for Mikhail Grabovski but later needed that draft pick back to trade for Phil Kessel. However, Montreal had already traded Toronto’s pick to Chicago for Robert Lang. So, prior to the Kessel trade, Toronto traded their 2011 2nd and 3rd round picks to Chicago in return for the Leafs 2010 2nd round pick. So depending on how you look at it, Kessel came to Toronto at the expense of Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton as well as either Jared Knight (selected using Toronto’s 2010 2nd round pick) or Brandon Saad and Michael Paliotta (selected using Toronto’s 2011 2nd and 3rd round picks).

I’ve got a headache.

Turning our attention back to Toronto’s rebuild, it’s pretty clear that the Leafs didn’t go about it through the draft and developing prospects internally. Rather, the Leafs managed to assemble a playoff-bound roster through trades and UFAs, forfeiting their opportunity to draft a franchise centre in Tyler Seguin. This becomes more apparent when considering that 6 of 7 former 1st round selections that have suited up for the Leafs this year weren’t drafted by the organization. In contrast, 7 of 10 former first round selections currently playing for Ottawa were drafted and developed within the organization.

For the time being, Toronto can revel in their roster and the return to respectability it has brought. However the debate is far from over, as prospects like Knight, Hamilton, Biggs and Saad continue to develop. In time, analysis can be done to determine which method of rebuild proved more successful, and which decision in particular had the greatest impact.

What’s clear now is that Toronto and Ottawa employed vastly different techniques to revamp their rosters, and both appear to be heading to the playoffs in 2013.