Sunday, October 07, 2012

What the Previous Lockout Did to the Leafs (And if this one can do the opposite).

Ed note: you may remember the guest post we made on our friend Will's blog. Will was kind enough to return the favour by helping us out right here.

It's no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise is an absolute mess. From letting injured players play (Joe Colborne, JS Giguere etc), from the coaching fiasco involving Francois Allaire, all the way to the failure to make the playoffs in the last seven years. Toronto is a basketcase, and it has been since 2005. What some fans don't really think of is how damaging 2005 was for Toronto. Currently, the NHL is locked out yet again, seemingly for most, if not the whole regular season. What this article touches upon is the consequences the last one had on the Maple Leafs, and if the brand new lockout will have the same, or the opposite effect.

The season right before the 2004-2005 lockout was a success for the Leafs, although not a huge success. They were a contender, playing extremely well during the regular season. Relying on a renaissance performance from Ed Belfour, a very effective top line of Gary Roberts, Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny, a decent supporting cast led by Joe Nieuwendyk (Who was limited to 64 games), and a solid defensive core. They were a force, and geared up for the playoffs by acquiring proven veteran players like Ron Francis and Brian Leetch (He performed very well in his brief stint here). The playoffs started off strong for Toronto. Belfour was lights out, Sundin put up a point a game yet again, Roberts and Leetch put up solid numbers, and the team as a whole were putting together a solid run. However, it all came to an end in the second round, as the Flyers eliminated Toronto. It would be the last playoff run Toronto would have up until now.

The 2004-2005 season would look to be another good one for the Maple Leafs, but the CBA negotiations led to a lockout, and the season was lost. Toronto was on the hook for a good chunk of salary, most of which was allocated to aging veterans such as Nieuwendyk and Roberts. Toronto's management never anticipated a salary cap or that their aging veterans would, well, age. All of a sudden, Ferguson had to jettison Roberts and Nieuwendyk, engage in a contract dispute with Owen Nolan which cost them some serious money, and be stuck with a forty year old Ed Belfour. Toronto made the mistake of not priming young players to replace the older ones as they broke down, retired or left. Just like the mid-late 90s, the team relied heavily on one guy, Mats Sundin. Since the team failed to anticipate a cap, or to keep a pipeline of young supporting players, they were in a pretty bad spot for the new season.

John Ferguson would inevitably try and put a band-aid on a bullet wound, by signing a broken Lindros, useless defenceman Alex Khavanov, and the aging, slow giant Jason Allison. Lindros played just over twenty games, and Allison suited up for over 60, and put up a point per game. However, this wasn't the solution to the major woes of the franchise. The team would suffer until Ferguson was let go, and Burke took over in 2008.

Cliff Fletcher held the fort for a year until Burke arrived, and damaged the team even more, by trading good young players, Alex Steen and Carlo Coliacovo, for a terrible Lee Stempniak. Brian Burke took over afterwards and detonated the team. All of a sudden, the Leafs had a young sniper in Phil Kessel, a top pairing young d-man in Dion Phaneuf, a good #2 centre in Mikhail Grabovski and a cupboard stocked with prospects. Things looked promising for once, but we all know how that's turned out lately.

Coming into the 2012-2013 season, the Leafs made no real changes, and the lockout occurred. There are some differences from the 2005 lockout however. Instead of an extremely aging squad, the Leafs have a very young team. Their best players are all under 30, and they have no committments that run on for years. Seemingly, the Leafs might actually be more prepared this time around. The team has cap flexibility, no real onerus contracts on the books (minus Mike Komisarek), and a good number of prospects. Compared to 2005, the Leafs have set themselves up to be ready for any change in the new CBA.

The question remains, if the season is cancelled, will the Leafs be successful in the next season afterwards? Well, no, not really. The consequences of the 2005 lockout are still in effect currently. The team has yet to find, or develop any sort of replacements for Mats Sundin, and Ed Belfour. Fans love James Reimer, but he hasn't proven anything on a consistent basis. As Chemmy and others from Pension Plan Puppets pointed out, the team went from being old and good, to being young and bad. The only similarity is that both squads were destroyed by terrible goaltending. The effects of 2005 have been damning for seven years.

I realize that I might be coming off as a negative Nancy. However, since 2005, this organization has been a complete mess. Both Ferguson and Burke have failed to address the vital areas the Leafs need to improve. The team might be much younger than before, but it's filled with a lot of garbage that few other teams want. Toronto won't be able to acquire Luongo without giving something worthwhile up, like Kadri (which might be a risk they need to take). There doesn't seem to be a #1 centre on the market, and the Leafs' best prospect in that position, Joe Colborne, probably doesn't have that potential. While the changes Burke has made might be satisfying on the surface, the team hasn't really recovered since 2005. This new lockout might have bought Burke some much needed time, but they need to use it wisely. Or else the catastrophe known as the "Toronto Maple Leafs" might run for much longer yet.

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