May 20th, 2015—After months of speculation of whether or not he would be on his way to Toronto, the Maple Leafs made Mike Babcock their new head coach. During the press conference, both Babcock and team president Brendan Shanahan preached a certain word in regards to the Leafs rebuild, patience.
As Leafs fans, we have endured years and years of disappointment and failure from past groups. It’s fair to say that we’ve been patient, I mean REALLY patient with our hometown team trying to find a recipe for success. With every year of trying to remain positive, we have dealt with frustration and throwing our hands up and saying, “I give up!”
We have the longest drought in the NHL without a championship title, 48 years and counting. In two years, it will most likely be 50 years without one.
It seems like it was only yesterday where the Leafs traded for talented sniper, Phil Kessel to begin a rebuild and become a playoff team immediately under Brian Burke. Even though Burke initially added key pieces (Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski) to the Leafs that made the playoffs in 2012/13 (fired before the start of the season), they were far from being a perennial contender in the post-season.
Instead of trying to build off the success from that year and take a few steps forward, the Leafs took two massive steps back, including a certain contract that I refuse to remind everyone of (because I’m still shocked that that happened).
After trying to find a positive after a really disappointing ending, we had to deal with even more frustration, anger and a lot of questions from fans such as: Why did we sign this player for this amount of time? Where is this team going? What is their plan? Will they make the playoffs this year? Will they trade this guy? What will they do next year?
With only one playoff appearance since the 2004/05 lockout (a fluke at that), the Leafs once again are hitting the rebuild button after another disappointing and extremely shameful season.
With a new management group, coaching staff and scouts, the Leafs aren’t taking any short cuts and they are definitely not cutting any corners like previous failed rebuilds. They are amassing a strong group of prospects that will carry this team down the line.
The full rebuild continued at the draft, where the Leafs made clear that they are looking to be a more fast and talented group from years past. The Leafs hope lies in the deep prospect pool with the likes of William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Kasperi Kapanen as future corner stones of this franchise.
After days later on Free Agent Frenzy, the process continued by trading sniper Phil Kessel for future pieces in Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington. Will Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul or Dion Phaneuf be next?
This is a new team with a new vision from management and the coaching staff. The goal for the future is to pick this team up from the ashes and turn into a team that can compete. They seem to have a no non-sense, hard working, ‘if you don’t like it then don’t bother playing’ attitude. This is the kind of discipline that management should’ve been instilling from all the previous years of failure.
This is where the idea of patience (I know, we’ve been patient before) comes in. Babcock is used to not rushing talent and letting them take their time to develop their skill. Player development is extremely crucial in a rebuild. We saw it with the Detroit Red Wings and we’re going to see it with the Leafs. We aren’t developing these players for now; we are developing them to be key contributors in the future.
If Babcock and Shanahan want to put Canada’s team back on the map; then we are going to let them do it their way. They know where the game is going and they want the Leafs to be there… in time.
In an article by TSN’s Jonas Siegel about top prospect William Nylander potentially pushing for a roster spot this year, Maple Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas had this to say about their prospect pool:
“We’re not going to bring them up unless they’re absolutely ready to stay up all the time. We want them to be 100 per cent ready to play for the Maple Leafs.
“We want our players to carry on a steady route and to be ready to come to the Maple Leafs when they’re absolutely ready to do so, and that might draw the ire of fans and media and even the players themselves when they think that they’re ready, but we’re going to stick with it and we’re not going to waver from it.”
Link to full article by Jonas Siegel
If you think a group of 18/19 year-olds are going to help us now, then you are wrong.
Let’s be realistic, our prospects won’t be on this team this year for the sole purpose of being on this team because the team is weak. We’re not asking them to make an impact right away. The Leafs will give them the time they need to develop and become NHL stars.
Kasperi Kapanen won’t replace the offensive production lost with Phil Kessel this year just because fans say he should “be the next Kessel.” He won’t be able to fill Kessel’s shoes by coming in as a rookie and scoring 30 goals and 80 points. He will be coming in to do what he needs to do and what management expects him to do. They want him to be his own brand of player and that he doesn’t need to immediately replace a five-time 30 goal scorer.
With that comes time and once again, patience.
It’s not a bad thing to send players back to the American Hockey League, OHL or any other league. It just makes them better players. As die hard followers of this team, like management, we should want what is best for them. We don’t want to have another incident where we rushed a prospect simply for the purpose of trying to win right now (re: Luke Schenn). It’s a HUGE gamble to take especially in a full-blown rebuild.
Side Note: Here’s an article from theScore.com regarding the Arizona Coyotes trying “fast-track” prospects to the NHL:
This a major risk on Coyotes management considering past incidents with Kyle Turris and Mikkel Boedker.
To rely on young 18/19-year-old prospects for long-term success without any exposure to the professional level is a big risk. That’s not to say that Max Domi or Anthony Duclair will be bad players, but start them off in the AHL, see how they develop then take it from there. The only way they should make the team is if they impress, not trying to force them up and play them right away. Unless you know that they’re 100 per cent ready to play in the NHL, don’t risk it. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Now, back to the Leafs.
For the upcoming season, the Leafs currently have 13 forwards under contract for the 2015/16 season. Here is a look at their depth chart at the forward position (Not based on line combinations):
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|James van Riemsdyk||Tyler Bozak||Joffrey Lupul|
|Leo Komarov||Nazem Kadri||P.A. Parenteau|
|Daniel Winnik||Peter Holland||Mark Arcobello|
|Shawn Matthias||Nick Spaling||Taylor Beck|
Depth Chart from The Hockey News
On paper, and most likely on ice, this isn’t a team that will be pushing for a playoff spot this year. However, the Leafs are playing this smart. By signing cheap depth free-agents with the likes of P.A. Parenteau, Shawn Matthias, Mark Arcobello and Daniel Winnik to short term deals, it gives their prospects an opportunity to continue to develop and make way for them in the future. They are only filling roles for now until the likes of Nylander, Marner or Kapanen are ready to make it to the big league.
Again, if prospects are ready and impress during training camp, whose to say that they shouldn’t steal a job from veteran players. It just shows the dedication and attitude they have in taking the next step. Who knows, there is a good chance that William Nylander could be on the roster when the regular season starts.
He found major success with MODO in the Swedish Hockey League playing with men as an 18-year-old (20 points in 21 games, 0.95 points per game). From there, Nylander dominated the World Junior Championships, finishing top five in scoring (behind Connor McDavid, Nic Petan, Sam Reinhart and Max Domi) with seven assists and 10 points. Nylander then made a smooth transition to North America playing with the Toronto Marlies recording 32 points in 37 games played.
After making an impact in his rookie year in the AHL, Nylander knows that hard work will get him to the next level.
“Hard work is what’s going to earn you a job in the NHL,” said Nylander in an interview on TSN.ca. “It’s hard to prove anything right now when you’re just working on skills and stuff on the ice, but at least you can show that you have the work ethic and dedication to get better every day.”
Link to video
His play during training camp and the pre-season will determine if he is truly ready. Should he be sent down? Again, this shouldn’t be discouraging; they are doing what is best for the player(s) and for the future of the organization. They don’t want their skill and talent to be diminished.
There is no doubt that Leafs fans have been patient throughout the years and it looks like they will have to be patient for a little bit longer.
If the city wants a championship, then they are going to do this the right/long way instead of cutting corners for the sole purpose of winning “right now”. They want a brand new established core to go up against the likes of other powerhouse teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, two teams that built their way through the draft.
By drafting high-end talent with speed and skill and developing them properly, there is no doubt that the Leafs will be successful in rebuilding this team from the ground up. There is no way that they will revert back to pass failures and rush undeveloped talent.
Players still have time to show their value at the rookie tournament as well as training camp. These guys are going into training camp not expecting a roster spot, they will have to earn it. If they fail to impress, they’ll have to work 10 times as hard to make it the following year.
We have all heard the phrase, “Patience is a virtue.”