Building A Champion Part 4: How Far Are The Leafs From Contending

Dom Luszczyszyn
June 22 2016 07:00AM

After establishing who makes up the Leafs core and projecting how good those players will be over the next five seasons, it’s finally time to answer the big question on everyone's mind: just how long until the Leafs are competitive again?

And it’s an important question to ask based on some of the events (and rumoured events) that have transpired over the last few days.

Two days ago, the Leafs traded pick no. 30 in this year’s draft and a second rounder in 2017 for goaltender Frederik Andersen, and then signed him for five seasons. As you’ll recall from previous parts to this series, goaltending was an enigma for this team going forward, but the Leafs have apparently found their guy (RIP ‘Mystery Goalie’).

Plugging that hole seems to signal a change in the Leafs plans; that the scorched earth part of the rebuild is now over, and it’s time to start acquiring pieces that will help the team consistently earn two points night in and night out. If that weren't the plan the team would’ve probably continued playing Jonathan Bernier, right?

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Building A Champion Part 3: Evaluating Core Roster Players

Dom Luszczyszyn
June 15 2016 08:01AM

First, we identified the Leafs core. Then we projected the young studs that’ll be the main building blocks of that core. Now it’s time to look at the pieces already on the roster that could make up the rest of the core.

We’ve already projected whether The Big Three will be championship calibre players with a possible timeframe in mind (3-5 years). The question now is whether the surrounding core pieces will be good enough. In my initial THN piece, one of the main rules was that a team needs to have about four elite players and one excellent player on top of that. 

All three of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander project to be elite pieces (although there is no absolute certainty in that whatsoever), so realistically the Leafs only need one more core player to be an elite piece; preferably their number one d-man.

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Building A Champion Part 2: Evaluating The Big Three

Dom Luszczyszyn
June 08 2016 07:00AM

The first step to building a Stanley Cup champion is establishing a core. We’ve done that already in the first part of this series.

To recap quickly, there’s seven key pieces on almost every Cup contender that make up the core: an elite number one centre, an elite winger, an elite d-man, a very good second centre, a strong fourth forward, a solid goalie, and a capable second d-man.

On the Leafs, these are the likely candidates for those spots going forward:

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Building A Champion Part 1: Establishing A Core

Dom Luszczyszyn
June 01 2016 07:00AM

As Pittsburgh and San Jose battle to take home the Stanley Cup, I’m sure there’s one thought thought that’s crossing every Leafs fans’ mind while watching: how long until we see the Leafs here?

It’s a valid question, but considering it’s steeped deeply in years of futility, the question is much closer to “seriously how much longer?” Yes, it’s been a while. Almost 50 years. Back when Brian Burke came aboard in 2008 he said that fans wouldn’t have patience for a five-year rebuild. As if after 41 years, they’d throw patience out the window. Eight years later, here we (still) are.

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Kessel's Cup Run is Karma For Those Who Doubted Him

Dom Luszczyszyn
May 11 2016 02:08PM

Photo Credit: Charles LeClarie/USA TODAY SPORTS

With last night’s thrilling overtime victory over the Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins inched closer to hockey’s ultimate prize, while the Leafs reward for helping them get there diminished.

It’s turning into a very cruel punishment for Leafs fans. The value of the first round draft pick they obtained in exchange for Kessel is decaying at the same rate as his perceived value rises. With each big goal Kessel scores for a team on their way to a Stanley Cup, the trade looks worse and worse.

And it already looked pretty bad at the time.

In exchange for Kessel, the Leafs effectively moved up 30 spots in the draft, got a third and a couple of decent prospects. They also had to swallow $1.2 million of Kessel’s $8 million contract themselves for the next seven seasons. That’s not a great package for an elite first line winger, especially considering the Leafs sweetened the deal by retaining salary.

The Leafs sold short on an elite player essentially because of a poor reputation. Yes, it was probably necessary for the full rebuild to take shape – the Leafs wouldn't have finished last with Kessel on the team, that's for sure – but that doesn't make the return any less underwhelming given his talent level.

It was a culture change. Kessel was the poster boy of a failed regime. One that won three playoff games during his entire tenure as a Leaf and famously squandered a fourth in historic fashion. The Leafs simply couldn’t win with Phil Kessel.

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