If you had told me five games into the regular season that the Toronto Maple Leafs were number one in the Eastern Conference and tied for number one in the National Hockey League
I would have drafted Nazim Kadri in my fantasy league you’d have me believing you were bat-shit crazy.
But I thought Toronto was re-building?
Brian Burke doesn’t believe in re-builds. Sure, he’ll blow a team up, but he expects to make a Stanley Cup run each year with his tough, skilled, veteran teams. He’ll overpay on trades, move up and down draft tables and bully general managers into giving him what he wants (see: the Sedins).
But, guess what? It works. The era of John Ferguson, Jr. was mired in abysmal failure, bloated contracts, jaw-droppingly awful trades and general non-success. Cliff Fletcher drafted Luke Schenn. That was about it. Brian Burke has built the team through free agency and trades. If you think he’s waiting three years for a prospect to develop, you’re wrong. You might not always agree with him, but he gets what he wants and he’s usually successful.
So what the hell is going on in Toronto? Brian Burke started to build a culture. One of toughness, accountability and pride in the blue and white. He traded for Calgary malcontent Dion Phaneuf and made him captain. It looks like that’s working out in the hockey mecca. Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who Anaheim fans thought was washed up, is 3-0-1 with a 1.96 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Why those don’t seem like washed up numbers, do they?
Tyler Seguin Phil Kessel has five goals and two assists in seven games. He also made some worthy additions in the off-season in Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong. Versteeg has two points and a plus-two. If you were Twitter with angst-ridden rants when Tomas Kaberle’s no-trade clause went into effect, Kaberle has four assists and is a plus-three. You might need a guy like him in the playoffs.
Do I really believe the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to win a Stanley Cup in 2011? No, I really don’t. Do I believe they’re going to surprise a team or two in the playoffs? It’s certainly possible. He did it with the Ducks in ’05-’06. But regardless of what the pundits say, the Toronto Maple Leafs are (finally) on the rebound. Brian Burke doesn’t believe in losing and he’s well on the way to re-making the Leafs from a laughing-stock to a winner.