Brian Burke's folly: The Toronto Maple Leafs

oopsburke.jpgJames Mirtle wrote a nice piece on the Toronto Maple Leafs, spotlighting the five biggest mistakes that Brian Burke has made in his 500+ days as the team’s general manager. Let me be honest, though – there’s plenty of other mistakes to choose from.

The biggest error was trading those crucial draft picks (a first and second rounder this year, a first rounder next year) for Phil Kessel. Mirtle has a great write-up on the gaffe, pointing out that pride and principle might have gotten in the way of Burke’s team building efforts.

For one, the Leafs could have landed Kessel via an offer sheet for $5.4-million a season, his current salary. Compensation would have been three picks – a first-rounder, a second-rounder and a third-rounder – and Toronto would have kept its 2011 first-round pick.

… Burke could have alternatively made this year’s first-round pick conditional – or “lottery protected,” as is often the case in the NBA. The condition could have been as follows: If Toronto finishes in lottery position, instead of giving up the 2010 and 2011 first-rounders, make it 2011 and 2012.

Of all the missteps, that move is the worst. But really, almost all of the big moves Burke made smell of desperation rather than sound decision making. He’s added a ton of salary in goal (Giguere’s $6 million) and on defense (Dion Phaneuf at $6.5 million, Mike Komisarek at $4.5 million and Francois Beauchemin at $3.8 million) to a team that already had a faulty structure.

In fact, after the jump I’ll share a quick salary cap breakdown just to paint that not-so-pretty picture.


Thumbnail image for phaneufer.jpg2010-11 Salary Cap Commitments (according to CapGeek.com. Figures are rounded for simplicity.)

Forwards (8 of 12): Kessel ($5.4 million), Bozak (3.73), Grabovski (2.9), Orr (1), Irwin (900k), Stalberg (850k), Caputi (833k) and Sjostrom (750k)

Defense (7 of 6): Phaneuf (6.5), Komisarek (4.5), Kaberle (4.3), Beauchemin (3.8), Finger (3.5), Schenn (2.98) and Gunnarsson (800k)

Goalies: (1 of 2): Giguere (6)

Cap space in 10-11: $11.38 million

Key re-signs: Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson

Ugh, what a mess. Between Burke’s blunders and the mistakes of the past, the Leafs have a stunning $25.58 million wrapped up in a top 6 defense that isn’t even any good. The rumors of moving Kaberle seem to be gathering steam now because he’s just about the only blueliner they can move. Schenn is their bright side. Phaneuf, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Finger have contracts that would make Glen Sather blush.

Frankly, this team doesn’t look promising. They have all those Pension Plan bucks to spend but they have so many holes to fill with a rotten roster. Sure, they have the occasional nice prospect like Nazem Kadri, but chances are they won’t just be giving the Bruins a great draft pick this year but possibly next year too. The only thing I can say is that maybe – just maybe – Toronto will have a chance to turn things aroung in the 2011-12 season because Giguere’s contract will expire (as will Kaberle’s, if he is still with the team).

Brian Burke is a great hockey mind and brings bushels of unintentional comedy to the table, but the club’s win-now approach turned the Toronto Maple Leafs into a tragicomedy of a team. Now, if someone would listen to my advice and install a Burke Cam during next week’s draft lottery …

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    Capitals prove Ovechkin right, tie series with Blue Jackets

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    In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

    The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

    After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

    The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

    Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

    With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

    Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

    The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

    With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Bruins push Maple Leafs to brink

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    The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

    Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

    That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

    The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

    Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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    The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

    The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

    NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

    Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

    As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

    This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Doughty, Hedman, Subban are 2018 Norris Trophy finalists

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    Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators have been named finalists for the 2018 Norris Trophy. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Assocation, is given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” will be handed out during the NHL Awards show June 20 in Las Vegas.

    This is the fourth time Doughty has been name a finalist. He won the award in 2016 after finishing second the year before. Hedman finished third in the voting last season and this is the second time he’s finished in the top three. Subban, like Doughty, has a Norris Trophy on his resume (2013). This is the third time he’s been up for the award.

    [NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

    The Case for Drew Doughty: The Kings blue liner finished sixth in scoring among defensemen with 60 points, which included 10 goals. He also led all NHL players in total ice time with 2,200:31, finishing with an average of 26:50 per game. He had a strong possession game with a 53 percent Corsi and a 4.39 Relative Corsi, meaning LA fired nearly five shots more per 60 minutes when Doughty was on the ice.

    “I’m not starting the season, thinking ‘oh I got to get the most points I can, so I can win the Norris,’” he told The Athletic last month. “I’m starting the season, thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my defensive game even better, because that’s where my team needs me the most – to lead the charge in that area. It’s a team game and it’s about winning championships.”

    The Case for Victor Hedman: Hedman finished tied for first among defensemen in goals scored with 17 and finished fourth in points with 63. He set a career high in ice time with 1,990:30 total minutes, averaging 25:51 per night. The possession stats for the Lightning defenseman were solid as well, with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.38 Relative Corsi.

    “I’m fortunate to be on an unbelievable team that helped me out through my first decade in the league, to help me grow into the player I want to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in February. “Still got stuff to work on and get better at, but obviously winning the Norris would be something that I want to do. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to play my best every night.”

    The Case for P.K. Subban: Subban was right behind Hedman in goals scored (16) and right behind Doughty in total points (59). He logged 1,977:24 of ice time, playing in all 82 games for the Predators this season. As you’d expect from a Norris finalist, his possession stats were good, as he finished with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.3 Relative Corsi.

    Earlier this season, Subban told the Tennessean he felt his defensive game was overlooked. “The offensive part of my game has always been there,” he said. “The defensive part has always been there as well, but for whatever reason, I don’t seem to get the credit for what I do in my (defensive) zone and how I contribute defensively for our hockey club.”

    2018 NHL Award finalists
    Lady Byng (Friday)
    Selke Trophy
    Vezina Trophy

    ————

    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.