Total tear-down of Leafs Burke's only real option


When Carlo Colaiacovo departed for St. Louis this week, it meant yet another deadhead draft for the Maple Leafs.


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When Carlo Colaiacovo departed for St. Louis this week, it meant yet another deadhead draft for the Maple Leafs.

Colaiacovo was the club's first selection in the 2001 NHL entry draft, and his exit left the Leafs without a single player remaining from the 12 promising teenagers they acquired that June day in Sunrise, Fla.

The same goes for the 1999 and 2000 drafts, as well. The Leafs have essentially nothing to show for the 31 players they drafted from '99 through '01, players who should be moving into their prime right about now.

That, it's fair to say, is a big reason why the club is where it is today.

With Brian Burke's signature all that's left to be acquired before he's introduced as the club's new president and GM at a press conference tomorrow afternoon, he will inherit a team that is, in the words of a senior NHL executive with another team, a "train wreck."

Cliff Fletcher may have done a few helpful things over the past 10 months, but he didn't start the rebuilding process in earnest. Indeed, he has traded away draft picks for older, marginal players, leaving the club with only five picks in next June's draft and five the year after.

Luke Schenn is the club's only "A" prospect at any level. Burke and David Nonis, likely to be named the club's vice-president and director of player personnel, are taking on a mammoth job with few assets.

Clearly, moves like acquiring winger Lee Stempniak for Colaiacovo and Alex Steen was born of the get-back-to-the-playoffs-as-soon-as-possible philosophy. Colaiacovo and Steen should have been moved for draft picks or younger players, not a player who could make the team better today but will be an unrestricted free agent in 2010.

Similarly short-term was the thinking behind the flawed decision to keep Schenn in the NHL this season.

"Great. He'll be unrestricted just as the team starts to get good," said a Western Conference source.

A complete tear-down is the only logical option, which will include moving players like Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky for future assets.

Burke's history suggests he might just be the man to both understand that and do it.

Go back to his Vancouver days. He inherited a Mark Messier-led team in 1998 that had finished with 64 points. The next year, it collected 58 points.

In January 1999, Burke traded away the best player in team history, Pavel Bure, in a seven-player deal with Florida that brought 22-year-old defenceman Ed Jovanovski to the West Coast.

Then came the dramatic '99 draft. The Canucks went in with the third pick overall. Burke traded Bryan McCabe and a 2000 first-rounder in the hours before the draft to Chicago for the fourth overall selection, then packaged the No. 4 pick and two third-rounders to Tampa for the first overall selection.

He then traded the top pick to Atlanta for the No. 2 selection and a third-rounder in 2000, and drafted the Sedin twins with the second and third picks.

Pretty aggressive and, in retrospect, pretty astute.

The youthful 'Nucks then went to 83 points, then to 90, then to 94, then to 104, and finally to 101 points before he was canned. In took four years for Burke to develop a serious team with youth and upside, but it was done.

That said, we've seen people change their stripes before after taking over the Leafs.

John Ferguson Jr., for example, came to the Leafs preaching patience and a draft/develop approach, but soon after he was caught in a vicious cycle of trading away first picks and former first picks to solve his goaltending problem.

Burke must know what he has to do in Toronto.

But others who came before him knew as well and were persuaded to make very different choices.


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