Friday, April 11, 2014

The road less traveled

Justin Smith

With Brendan Shanahan set to take over the reins in Leaf land, what exactly will be in store for the franchise going forward?

Shanahan has the tangibles of a winner on almost every level, and that is probably the main reason Leiweke decided to bring him in. To me though, the single most important aspect of this new hiring is simply that he is a new set of eyes to evaluate this sinking ship of a team. Take into account the amount of possible candidates for blame spreading like a rampant forest-fire; perhaps he can provide a little perspective to a management staff that has no clue how to deal with this.

Now I have also evaluated the situation and it has lead me to the one thing this franchise has avoided like the plague for some reason. Not once have I seen a true commitment to taking the slow route, and building through the draft. I know there are many who will say that it is unfeasible to do that now because of the players the team currently has under contract, like Kessel. There also is the issue of the 100th anniversary in a couple of years that will surely be wasted with a losing season.

But logic aside a second, what if Shanahan looks at this team and decides that a 'true' rebuild is the way to go? I'm not sure how he would even pull it off considering the amount of players you would have to ship out just to be THAT bad. I can't say I would be totally heart broken about him deciding over the summer to just blow up the team and start drafting at the top for a change. It definitely would be a change because lets face it, the Leafs aren't exactly the envy of teams when it comes to prospective players. And to that end, what is a better time to do it then next season?

So the first move he would likely make is to fire the coach and maybe even the GM. Next, Shanahan would want to hire a coach that can coach young talent and essentially grow with the team. If you're lost on that fact, just think of what the Oilers did by wooing Dallas Eakins. Funny thing is, the second the Leafs hired Carlyle I knew it was going to be a mistake. Eakins should have been the coach of the Leafs last season and trust me the players would be better for it. But I don't want to get in to that right now because I could write another three articles about that alone.

Next you probably would trade your most valuable players to get the highest return in prospects and picks. Now of course you have already made a list of maybe five or six players that you feel can grow with the team. Likely Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel would be the two you would look to move for maximum return of assets. Get rid of your older/overpaid d-men, and promote some of the Marlies you have stewing in the minors, like Carter Ashton.

"But Justin, why would you do all of this knowing you just traded for a 24-year-old Jonathan Bernier?"

Two reasons:

1. You ACTUALLY want to change this team.

2. Who is to say that with J. Bernier these younger players can't have a bit of success? Look at how young the Avalanche are and they have been on fire for the entire season. Hockey media had them drafting top 5 in this years draft. Amazing what a new coach and steady goal-tending does for a team. Granted they have some pretty remarkable players, but they are very YOUNG players. Who is to say if you have a couple of good drafts, re-sign a now 26-year-old Bernier, that you can't make the playoffs?

All I am suggesting is that maybe Brendan Shanahan comes in and looks at what HASN'T been done yet. If you are to assume that is what he will do, it is conceivable to assume he will point to a proper rebuild.

Is it probable, no.

Will he likely do it, probably not.
It's a bit too difficult at this stage and maybe a bit too logical at the same time.

I just think it is kind of funny how everyone wants to put in their two cents as to why the Leafs don't have those go-to guys on the roster. Or maybe suggest who gets fired this off-season after another pathetic end-of-season collapse.

Perhaps it is time for this organization to stop delaying the inevitable and take the road less traveled for once. 

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