The Rebuild

It’s been 48 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs were victorious. Since then, the team and its fans have endeavoured bad management decisions, and ownership who quickly turned a historic franchise into a bitter disappointment.  1993 and 2003 were the only times the Maple Leafs actually had a chance to return to the Stanley Cup Final. However, they fell short despite having great teams during each run. Let’s not forget 2013, the epic meltdown of game seven between the Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins after the blue and white blew a 4-1 lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs. A haunting memory for fans but hey, at least the tequila shots helped after.

So now, we are in 2015 and for the first time in a long time, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in rebuild mode. As a diehard Leaf fan, I’m happy with the changes that have occurred over the summer from front office changes, to players being traded and building up a solid pool of prospects to hopefully one day, help this team become competitive and contend for the Stanley Cup.

With training camp set to open tomorrow for all NHL teams, here’s a look back on the off-season the Maple Leafs had.

First comes the front office changes. A huge makeover came days after the regular season ended that resulted with the release of Peter Horacheck and the coaching staff, the firing of General Manager Dave Nonis, and releasing its scouting team who undeniably made some mediocre picks in the draft (which did not help the team in any way).

Things began to drastically change on May 20th when the Maple Leafs welcomed former Detroit Red Wing and team Canada coach Mike Babcock, who is now, the highest paid coach in NHL history. Babcock has a success of winning. After all, he did coach the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup in 2008, then followed by two Olympic Gold Medals as the head coach for team Canada at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. With no General Manager for the draft, Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas assumed the role as interim GM who actually managed to make solid picks in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

It wasn’t long until they named a new General Manager. In comes Lou Lamoriello who had great success with the New Jersey Devils over the last 28 years. It’s obvious that both gentlemen were brought in for a reason, they have winning backgrounds who are willing to turn this team into a winning team overall as it was once before. Babcock did make it clear that he expects every player to be in shape for training camp, and compete in every single game from October to April.

With that in mind, it seems likely that Brendan Shananhan will have a final say on major decisions based on everyone’s input. With this new group of people in the front office and behind the bench, the Leafs have made some smart signings over the summer. P.A. Parenteau, Daniel Winnik, Marc Arcobello, Shawn Mathias, and Matt Hunwick were singed to short-term deals who could become trade bait for the trade deadline in March. Not only that, but each player will try to re-establish their value in the NHL. Nazem Kadri is in a similar situation as he resigned to a one-year deal and he has a lot to prove for Mike Babcock who has plenty of faith in the skilled player. The Maple Leafs also invited Brady Boyes, Curtis Glencross and Devon Setoguchi to training camp in hopes of staying with the team for opening night on October 7th.

On top of the free agent signings this summer the franchise went through a major shakeup with a big trade. The team traded star player Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Spaling, and prospects Kasperi Kapanenen, and Scott Harrington. Both prospects will be big pieces with the Toronto Marlies this season and for the Maple Leafs down the road. With these additions to the club, management will ensure that no prospect will be rushed to the NHL before they are ready for the show. William Nylander, Connor Brown, Brendan Leipsic, Zach Hyman and other hopeful prospects are going to be given time to develop their skills until they are ready to make the team full-time. Mitch Marner, who the Leafs drafted fourth overall in the draft, will have another season with the London Knights before he is in the Marlies organization.

For a team that has some good players, the Maple Leafs have a very poorly assembled team with a lack of depth up front. They still lack a true number one centre which needs to be adressed if they want to contend in the future. Players including; Tyler Bozak, Joffery Lupul and Dion Phaneuf could become trade bait depending how their season goes. However, Phaneuf will be interesting to watch as Babcock has reached to the captain. Phaneuf has had alot ice-time over the last two seasons, and has a lot of pressure wearing the C on his jersey. With Babcock’s help, Phaneuf could have a bounce back season.

The goaltending situation seems like a game of tug-of-war. Jonathan Bernier will be out to prove that he is actually a legitimate starting goaltender while James Reimer will once again ride as shotgun. It’s far from uncertain that Bernier will be a good enough goaltender in 4-5 years from now. Plus, both goaltenders will be in their thirties when the Maple Leafs will be competitive once again.

With the dramatic changes that happened with the possibility of more coming its this season, the key to contending is to build a solid pool of prospects that a team can develop who can be a part of a team and most importantly, the drive to win. It looks as though we are looking at the window of a true Stanley Cup contender within a 4-6 year range. This is the Maple Leafs time to show the fans and the league that this rebuild is real for this original six franchise.

Only time will tell if it will pay off. Needless to say, with a solid core of prospects who are about to brew up a storm in the AHL along with the right minds in management who can turn this struggling franchise around, it will be an interesting season for the Toronto Maple Leafs who are looking to put the franchise back on the map once and for all.