The Toronto Maple Leafs have been stuck in futility for the majority of the past 50 years only having a brief taste of playoff success in the 70s, 90s and early 2000s. It has been extremely tough being a Leafs fan during this time and there has been terrible transaction after terrible transaction. The past 10 years has been especially painful since the Leafs have only made the playoffs once and in 2013 they were beaten by the Boston Bruins in a historically embarrassing and painful seven game series.
Despite all the heart ache and anguish that Leafs fans have experienced the current regime is operating in a way that shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Leafs management is finally undergoing a more patient approach and everyone on their staff is on board. This rebuilding process might be difficult to watch and there will be trying times, but it is the method that all professional sports franchises utilize to achieve success.
Brendan Shanhan is the guru behind the Leafs machine and he is enforcing a very patient approach to build the Leafs into not just a contender in the present but also a contender in the upcoming future. He has uprooted all that was awful in the past regime and implemented theories that have been non-existent in the past but this is the only way that the Leafs will dig themselves out of their rut of failures.
I for one am all-in with doing whatever Leafs management can do to make myself proud to be a Leafs fan once again. The passion runs deep in the city of Toronto and it is about time that we had something to cheer for and so far optimism breeds eternal and I am very anxious to see what the future holds.
15 Hiring Kyle Dubas
Dubas does not have much management experience but even though he is only 30 years old he has already been the General Manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL and is currently the Assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was hired in July of 2014 and in his brief hockey management career he has developed a skill in evaluating young prospective players which is exactly what the Maple Leafs are looking for. He accomplishes team improvement through statistical analysis.
14 Hiring Mark Hunter
Mark Hunter played over 600 games in the NHL and has been in junior hockey for almost 20 years, coaching over 400 games and being the general manager, owner and vice-president of the London Knights of the OHL for 12 years. In October of 2014 he was named the director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs and with his vast experience around young talent I believe he is deal for the role.
13 Development of Nazem Kadri
Ever since Kadri was picked 7th overall in the 2009 draft he has had an up and down career with the Maple Leafs. He averages approximately half a point per game in his NHL career which is not eye-popping by any stretch but ever since his rookie year he has shown maturity and his game has developed him into a very reliable player at both sides of the rink. If he continues to flourish under Babock’s teachings the sky really is the limit for the multi-talented centre.
12 Trading David Clarkson
When David Clarkson was signed to a seven-year contract worth $5.25 million per year in 2013, it was one of the worst moves in recent Toronto Maple Leafs history. Clarkson did next to nothing in his two years here and only scored 15 goals in 119 games for the team. It is almost magical that David Nonis was able to unload his contract to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015 and thus clear his salary for future moves.
11 Development of James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk is the only legit scoring forward and All Star on the current roster and thus a major building block for the future success of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He excelled playing with Kessel while he was here and scored 75 goals in 210 games and was having a solid year this year before he got injured with 14 goals in 40 games. I also believe that JVR is a future candidate for the captain of the Maple Leafs because he is media savvy and one of the best players on the team.
10 Development of Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly is another major building block for the future success of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the current NHL you need an offensive puck moving defenceman that can run the power play and be a reliable defender and Rielly has shown signs of these things ever since he entered the league in 2013. Rielly has also showed flashes of brilliance and offensive flair during his brief NHL career and these are all things to look forward to in the up and coming years as his point totals continue to improve and defensive game evolves.
9 This Year's NHL Entry Draft
The result of tanking this year and taking the future into consideration has made the Toronto Maple Leafs a bottom of the barrel team and a prime candidate to pick in the top-3 in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Auston Matthews is the jewel of the upcoming draft and only 18 years old but has already dominated in the Swiss National League and led his team to a Swiss Cup championship. He has also led the USA to three gold medals in three under 18 tournaments. Matthews is the best prospect in this year's draft but there are other solid NHL prospects that should be ready to play next year. These include Matthew Tkachuk, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi.
8 Trading Dion Phaneuf
Trading Dion Phaneuf not only freed almost $42 million over the next six years against the salary cap but it also gets rid of a lingering negativity on the team. As soon as Phaneuf became the Leaf’s captain on June 14, 2010 he was put under the microscope and was unable to live up to the expectations put on him by the media and the fans of Toronto. The Maple Leafs did not receive much from the Ottawa Senators and most likely most of the players they got will not be playing for the team next year, but removing him from Toronto was a minor miracle and an excellent job by current general manager Lou Lamoriello.
7 Trading Phil Kessel
Like Phaneuf, trading Kessel was not just about shedding salary. His contract was actually worse than Phaneuf’s and had an average cap hit of $8 million until the 2021-22 season. Kessel scored a lot of goals while with the Leafs but his work ethic and physical conditioning were constantly brought into question and his awkwardness with the media is just something that did not sit well with Leafs Nation. Kessel’s goal scoring skills also diminished drastically during his final year here and he only managed 25 goals in 82 games. His poor play has continued in Pittsburgh playing with superstars such as Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and he has only scored 21 goals in 71 games.
6 Potential of 2016 Offseason
This year’s free agent class is extremely deep and is headlined by 26-year old sniper Steven Stamkos. He is a four-time 40 goal scorer and it is rare that someone of his talents and age becomes available on the open market. That being said, the Leafs should do everything they can to sign him up and bring him back home. Leafs management has put in the work this year and the transactions they have made show room for growth and a winning team in the future. Hopefully that is enough to lure a big fish in the free agent market. If not Stamkos someone such as Kyle Okposo might be a very good plan B acquisition.
5 Drafting Mitchell Marner
After scoring 126 points during the 2014-15 season for the London Knights of the OHL, Marner was selected 4th overall by the Maple Leafs. This season has been just as good and he has scored 116 points with 11 games remaining. He has also been a regular in the sports highlight reel as well and it is this kind of dynamic young talent that the Leafs have been lacking in their history. As a matter of fact, no one really comes to mind as a top draft pick that has had the kind of skill that Marner possesses. The only knock on Marner is that he is pretty small by NHL standards weighing in at only 170 pounds, but with the right weight training and mentor ship I am sure he can grow into a solid NHL player.
4 Drafting William Nylander
Drafted 8th overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft Nylander’s rise to the North American hockey has been very fast. He started the 2014-15 hockey season playing for MODO of the Swedish Hockey League but joined the AHL Toronto Marlies mid-season. Nylander scored 32 points in 37 games for the Marlies and his play almost singlehandedly helped the team rise from a bottom feeder in the AHL to one of the best teams in the league. His play with the Marlies allowed Nylander to get called up to the big club on February 29th and in the handful of games that he has played he has looked really comfortable and managed 3 goals and 4 points in 11 games displaying the skill he has showed throughout his young career.
3 Hiring Mike Babcock
When the Leafs signed Mike Babcock on May 20th, 2015 to an eight-year contract averaging $6.25 million per year, it was the biggest move in recent team history. He was the biggest free agent that was available last summer and Brendan Shanahan did everything he could do to acquire his services. Babcock’s success in the NHL is almost unparalleled and in 12 years as a head coach in the NHL his teams have only missed the playoffs once and he has won one Stanley Cup and five division titles. Babcock has also won two gold medals coaching for Team Canada at the Olympic Games.
2 Hiring Lou Lamoriello
On July 23, 2015 Lamoriello agreed to move from the team he built into a Stanley Cup contender to one that dreams of winning the Stanley Cup in the near future. In 27 years as the New Jersey Devils general manager the Devils only missed the playoffs 5 times and won three of the five Stanley Cup finals that they made. It is this kind of track record that Leaf’s fans have waited patiently for and the hall of famer along with Shanahan just might being glory back to Canada’s team.
1 Hiring Brendan Shanahan
What Shanahan gives Toronto Maple Leafs fans more than another other president in recent Leafs history is structure and a sense of calm and patience. Every move that Shanahan has made be it signing Mike Babock and luring his long-time friend Lou Lamoriello has had a purpose. Shanahan knows that building the Leafs into a winner will take time and every move he has been a part of so far has backed up this philosophy.
Unloading the hefty contracts of Kessel and Phaneuf and signing a hand full of veterans to one-year contracts this year gave him financial flexibility to make future moves and showed a sense of responsibility that I have never seen in my 30 plus years as a Leafs fan. Most of these one-year contracts were unloaded at the recent NHL trade deadline which frees up more cap space for the upcoming free agent season which as mentioned earlier is quite impressive.
Shanahan and his management team have also acquired as many draft picks as possible which again demonstrates patience and willing to build this team the right way. No more signing over the hill veterans after a career season and throwing money around to players that do not deserve it. Personally I am excited to see the light at the end of tunnel. GO LEAFS GO!