Now that Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spent big bucks to bring former Detroit Red Wings coach to Toronto as the Leafs bench boss, he must find a general manager who can do a better job at the draft table..
Make no mistake, folks, the Leafs’ draft record is a horrible one. Since the turn of this century, it’s among the league’s worst. Thanks to the good folks at HockeyDB.com, here’s a quick look at the damage:
2000 – Right wing Brad Boyes, who’s played 762 NHL games and netted 481 points, none of those with the Leafs.
2001 – Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (434 NHL games, 152 points) and center Kyle Wellwood (489 games, 235 points). Colaiacovo spent parts of five-and-a-half seasons with the Leafs, while Wellwood toiled for three seasons in Toronto.
2002 – Left wing Alexander Steen (679 games, 429 points), center Matt Stajan (774 games, 361 points) and defenseman Ian White (503 games, 179 points). Steen played nearly 3 1/2 seasons with the Leafs, Stajan 5 1/2 seasons, White 4 1/2 seasons. None are with the Leafs today.
2003 – Center John Mitchell (412 games, 149 points) played 2 1/2 seasons with the Leafs.
2004 – Goalie Justin Pogge played all of seven games with the Leafs. Left wing Robbie Earl played only nine of his 47 career NHL games with the Leafs.
2005 – Goaltender Tuukka Rask won the Vezina Trophy in 2014 with the Boston Bruins. He never played a game with the Leafs. Defenseman Anton Stralman played only 78 of his 476 (and counting) NHL regular-season games with the Leafs.
2006 – A bumper crop of fair-to-middling selections. Goaltender James Reimer, left wings Jiri Tlusty, Nikolay Kulemin and Viktor Stalberg, plus forward Leo Komarov. Of these, Reimer and Komarov remain with the Leafs. Kulemin spent six seasons in Toronto and joined the New York Islanders last summer as a free agent.
2007 – The underappreciated Carl Gunnarsson played all but 61 of his 365 (and counting) NHL games with the Leafs. He was dealt to St. Louis last summer.
2008 – Defenseman Luke Schenn spent the first four of his seven NHL seasons with the Leafs before being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for James van Riemsdyk. At least the Leafs got a good scoring winger for Schenn.
2009 – Center Nazem Kadri (250 games and counting, 152 points) selected seventh overall.
2010 to 2014 – Morgan Rielly (fifth overall, 2012 draft) is a promising young Leafs defenseman. William Nylander (eighth overall, 2015 draft) is a well-regarded prospect center.
Little wonder the Leafs only made the playoffs once since 2005-06, with that appearance coming in a lockout-shortened season. The few solid selections (Rask, Steen) made before 2010 were dealt away. The jury remains out on Kadri as to his potential as a reliable first- or second-line forward.
Of the picks in this decade, Reilly looks like a winner. It’s too early to tell about Nylander and the rest selected since 2012. Of those selected in 2010 and 2011, the window on any of them becoming full-time NHLers is swiftly closing.
While the Leafs have done a lousy job drafting and developing their talent, their rivals in Montreal and Ottawa have surpassed them. Since 2005, the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators have selected and developed talented stars who have become, or soon will become, foundation players.
Carey Price (2005), P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty (both in 2007) blossomed into superstars for the Canadiens, joined by promising young forwards Brendan Gallagher (2010) and Alex Galchenyuk (2013).
The Senators, meanwhile, selected superstar defenseman and team captain Erik Karlsson (2008), 2015 rookie scoring leader Mike Hoffman (2009), 2015 Calder nominee Mark Stone (2010) and promising forward Mika Zibanejad (2011).
Granted, those clubs aren’t Stanley Cup contenders. At least, not yet. The core of talent they’ve drafted and developed into stars gives them a better chance of reaching that goal than the Leafs.
Drafting well isn’t the only pillar for constructing a successful roster, but in the salary-cap era, it’s taken on greater significance. Teams cannot simply buy top talent via unrestricted free agency anymore, as the Leafs did from 1998 through 2004. Teams now prefer to re-sign their best players early in their careers to lengthy deals taking them from their early-to mid-twenties into their early-thirties. That leaves slim pickings for quality talent in the UFA market.
Trades are another key roster-building tool, but with many clubs handcuffed by the salary cap, good deals are harder to find. In most cases, trades must be as close to dollar-for-dollar as possible. Most in-season swaps are usually made near the trade deadline involving pending unrestricted free agents.
A club which drafts well under a salary cap can develop young talent into stars who play key roles in maintaining a playoff contender. Those teams can also speed up their rebuilding process by drawing upon their prospect depth to acquire established talent.
Shanahan wants to build the Maple Leafs into a Stanley Cup champion. To do so requires the drafting and developing of potential franchise players. There’s currently no one on the Leafs roster or within their system who appears to have superstar potential.
Until the Leafs improve in that department, they’ll remain doomed to mediocrity regardless of the pedigree of their head coach.