Toronto Maple Leafs: What is Brendan Shanahan’s Idea of a Rebuild?

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So What is Shanahan’s Idea of a Rebuild?

It really starts when either Kessel or Phaneuf get traded. Not only are they the highest paid players on the team but when things go wrong they are in the media’s crosshairs. It was wrong for management to assume that these two players could lead the team without much support.

Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; William Nylander puts on a team sweater after being selected as the number eight overall pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What the Leafs need to do is draft and develop their future franchise players and note that I wrote players not player. There is a reason why Steven Stamkos, Alexander Ovechkin and John Tavares have not made it far into the playoffs. It’s because their teams had not surrounded them with more players that can help them with the push towards the Stanley Cup. Jonathan Toews has Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby has Evgeni Malkin, Anze Kopitar has Drew Doughty, and Henrik Zetterberg has Pavel Datsyuk. Even LeBron James needed help to secure his championships. It has never been a singular player that has gotten the job done for a team rather a good group of players — something the Leafs need to understand in their rebuilding stage.

Kessel and Phaneuf were not the right choice to be the leaders of the Leafs. They were the worst choice because they did find a way to perform, they were just unable to live up to high expectations set for them. Kessel is a phenomenal goal scorer, but he does not posses the other qualities that you need in your top player to push the team forward. The mug shot of Kessel in the cover of the Hockey News did not strike the right note with Leafs fans, which is understandable. But everyone, including the media, looks at Kessel as one of the faces of the franchise and his inability to step up when this team goes through the slumps they face. The whole uncoachable or “coach killer” label on Kessel came from what the media learned from a former coach in Ron Wilson who was fired by the Leafs.

Burke said back in 2010 that Phaneuf brought something different to the Leafs when he was acquired which made him an easy choice for captain. “I’ve never brought a guy in who had a bigger impact on a team from a personality standpoint,” said Burke. “It was like an adrenaline bomb went off in our dressing room. This guy brought energy and a positive approach, he challenges everybody.”

Jan 7, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman

Stephane Robidas

(12) up ends Washington Capitals forward

Brooks Laich

(21) as Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf (3) looks on during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

So from what we can gather here the decision to make Phaneuf captain—which was Wilson’s decision— was made because the team responded to a new players approach. Unfortunately it was a rushed decision to make Phaneuf captain and that initial spark that the team got from Phaneuf’s competitive attitude was lost because Phaneuf was not able to handle the pressure of playing at his best while being the team’s leader. Even Shanahan realized this when he took over and so he tried to surround Phaneuf with more veteran leaders to make his life easier.

Now the two key players that Burke brought in to be the heart and soul of the Leafs will most likely be used as the trade chips to move this team in the right direction. Kessel and Phaneuf are good players, but they are not the type of players that can lead a competing team, instead they can be key components to move a team to the next step. Teams will pay the right value for both of them but do not expect the Leafs to break the bank and basically fleece the other team.

Oct 5, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) talks to defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) after defeating the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Senators 5-4 in the shootout. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The rumour of the Florida Panthers being interested in Kessel and not wanting to get rid of a stud player is an example. If a team is not willing to give up the right value to get Kessel then it is not worth it to trade him. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Leafs are not pressed to get rid of Kessel for basically nothing. He is signed to a long-term deal and has not requested a traded. It is not like when Martin St. Louis‘s was adamant on being traded to the New York Rangers and Steve Yzerman was basically handcuffed to make the trade. Luckily Yzerman got a pretty good return for St. Louis (Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick and another pick). Callahan is still with the Lightning and has played well in a supporting role with Stamkos, plus the pick that the Lightning got.

Nonis also said that teams calling about Kessel and Phaneuf know that these players have value and it is not going to be a situation where they are being dumped. Yes in the short-term the Leafs deals for Phaneuf and Kessel will not look good, but eventually it will work in the Leafs favour.

So for Shanahan the real rebuild starts when he decides to push the restart button and rebuild the identity of this team through different players that can be that leader both on and off the ice, which the Leafs have not had since the days of Wendel Clark and Mats Sundin. That player will not come through a trade, it will come from drafting and developing which will take time. That is why rebuilding a team takes at least three to four years to complete.

Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA;

Darnell Nurse

poses for a photo after being introduced as the number seven overall pick to the Edmonton Oilers during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

People point to the Buffalo Sabres and the Edmonton Oilers situations as examples of how tanking does not work when building a franchise. The reason why Edmonton has not gotten anywhere with all the top round selections that they have had is because they have not established players outside of the first round and their top players were thrown into a toxic situation with little room to grow and develop.

The Sabres have a lot of good prospects and if they add either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel they will become an even better team. They got a new owner who spent a lot of money on free agents that were not worth the big contracts which harmed their rebuild strategy. Once they traded away Ryan Miller it was more apparent that the rebuild was in full force in Buffalo.

The Leafs will try to stockpile themselves with as many picks and prospects as they can to try to mould those players to the style that they want to play. But again, it will take time. They still need a number one center, a number one stud defenceman, and a big strong winger. These players are impossible to trade for because teams do not let go of these players easily or cheap so the draft will be the best route for them. The only way the rebuild can go wrong is if management strays away from their initial plan and try to make the quick flip solution which has hurt this team countless times.

The Leafs made the smart move in trading Franson and Santorelli but fans will see the start of the rebuild when bigger pieces are moved out. Daniel Winnik will probably be next player moved, but there could be more deals to come, even though it is uncertain of what other teams really want. It could be possible that the Leafs do not trade Kessel and Phaneuf — or just one of them is moved — but at this point it seems unlikely that the Leafs open next season with both players as a part of the team.

Next: P.K. Subban Defends Phil Kessel