Leafs to Rebuild? Good Idea, Bad Idea, You be the Judge

I thought going into last Saturday’s night’s Hockey Night in Canada would tell the tale for the rest of the season. The Maple Leafs hosted the Oilers. The Oilers have been one the league’s worst-3 teams for ages now.

A loss to them is more than unacceptable.

Toronto won the game 5-1. They led the game 5-0 late in the third.

My hope was temporarily restored in this franchise.

Then they drop a 5-4 game at home to the New York Rangers.

That was followed two days later by a 3-2 loss in New York to the Islanders

Sports reporters (and fans) everywhere are calling for immediate change. I don’t know what the fix is. I don’t even know if there even is one.

This morning on theScore Inc., website, they have outlined the ‘bare bones’ of a plan that could see all players who are not named, traded or perhaps bought out of their contracts as soon as the March 2 trade deadline approaches, or in the off season at the latest.

According to this report, David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak would not be expected to return.

No promises were made regarding any player.

The one question on my mind at this point is: how long is this going to take?

Anybody who has followed the Maple Leafs knows that winning isn’t hoped for in these parts, it’s expected. If team President Brendan Shanahan thinks that he can ‘rebuild’ this team, he knows that it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.

This would mean, as the report indicates about halfway through, another 3-5 years of losing hockey in Toronto.

The thing I don’t understand about rebuilding is, how they intend for it to happen? Not all of these players are going to demand an equal or greater return; some of these players, nobody is going to want.

Even if Shanahan was to ‘eliminate’ or get rid of x number of players, it still won’t erase the fact that their #1 problem is that they need somebody who can coach. I think they need to replace the head coach, then look for ways of rebuilding/replacing players.

And further to that, Shanahan has no experience in what it takes to ‘rebuild’ a team. He was once a well-respected player on the ice, but he has no experience with what it seems he wants to undertake now.

And on top of that, when you decide on the ‘rebuild’, how do you know when you are done?

Teams such as Edmonton, Columbus, Florida, Arizona, and Dallas are still in the ‘rebuild’ mode. Any idea how much longer it may take any of them to complete? The Senators watched Alfredsson depart to Detroit as a free agent, then saw next-best player Jason Spezza jump to Dallas. What is next for them? Ottawa currently sits one point ahead of Toronto in the East.

I think that the other argument against stripping this team down for parts is that it is much the same club, minus a few players, that was able to push Boston to the limit in the post season 2 years ago. They may be showing some signs of not caring right now, but essentially that ‘core group’ of guys has proven to play effectively in the playoffs.

Besides maybe getting rid of SOME players, what this team needs more than anything else in the world right now is someone who can coach, and essentially win, in Toronto.

The #1 candidate that comes to mind is Detroit’s Mike Babcock, who remains unsigned in Detroit beyond this season. He has said that he wants a challenge. Look no further than Toronto. Another candidate is Mark Hunter, a third guy could be Dallas Eakins, and a fourth guy, who might be the next-best to Babcock, and that would be recent Cup winner in Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma. Making Babcock the Head Coach in Toronto automatically makes him the highest paid NHL coach in the history of the league.

One example to follow might be the Montreal Canadiens, who beat them last night in a shootout. They finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 but still has a pretty good core of players: Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin and of course Carey Price as well as a few up and coming prospects including Brendan Gallagher. He hired Michel Therrien as head coach, drafted Alex Galchenuk with the 3rd overall pick, signed Brandon Prust as well as a few other veteran players and they were suddenly second in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t a total rebuild, it was a change in philosophy and team spirit. It wasn’t all Carey Price because in that season he only had a 0.905 save percentage.

Jonathan Bernier has had a 0.919 save percentage since joining the Leafs, Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak are all pretty good players, Morgan Rielly has tremendous potential. Start by getting rid of the players who aren’t part of that core, bring in a new coach, draft a great player in June, sign a few veterans to stabilize the defense and the Leafs could be back in the playoffs quicker than we expect.