Many of the so-called wealthy teams in the NHL have faced some difficulty in the post lockout era. While the Detroit Red Wings have maintained their status as one the best teams in the NHL under any system, other high-spending teams have faced some adversity with the implementation of a salary cap. One example lies with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who despite their lack of success at the draft table were still able to make the playoffs for six consecutive years heading into the lockout of the 2004-2005 season.
After coming out of the lockout however, the Leafs have missed the playoffs four years in a row thanks in large part to being limited by a salary cap where the organization could no longer outbid other teams for top free agents. In the salary cap era, drafting becomes that much more important and while the Leafs are finally starting to generate a crop of young players who continue to develop, the organization is still waiting to see what will become of these young prospects in the coming years ahead. One way the wealthy teams like the Leafs can make up for the deficiencies they face under a cap system is to spend a lot of money on management where the organization does not face the limitations of a salary cap.
Leafs GM Brian Burke is proving that there are many ways where the Leafs can still have advantages over other teams in the NHL. In one of the biggest hockey markets in the world, Burke is continually showing his commitment to working around the salary cap and making the Leafs a Stanley Cup contender. He has already signed one US College free agent for next year in Christian Hanson and continually keeps his eyes open to any players coming out of NCAA hockey. Despite being at the helm of the Leafs GM post for less than a year, Burke has already made some key acquisitions in management that will hopefully pay dividends for Leaf fans in the near future. Former Vancouver GM Dave Nonis was hired by Burke as Vice President of Hockey Operations in December of 2008. Both Burke and Nonis are very familiar with one another after having worked together for many years with the Canucks.
As the former GM in Vancouver, Nonis was the man responsible for acquiring Roberto Luongo from Florida in a deal where Todd Bertuzzi was the main player headed back to the Panthers. Despite the fact the Nonis was fired as GM of the Canucks last year, there remained constant speculation that he would eventually land another gig as General Manager elsewhere. Prior to hiring Chuck Fletcher as GM last month, the Minnesota Wild had Dave Nonis on their last of candidates to interview for the position. However, the Toronto Star reported of Brian Burke’s refusal to allow Nonis to interview for the position as the Leafs General Manager clearly values Nonis and wants him to remain on the Leafs staff.
The Leafs can no longer outspend many of their opponents by 30-40 million dollars like the organization was so accustomed to doing in the years prior to the salary cap. But the organization can help make up for the advantage they once had by continually spending money on some of the top management in the business. Even when hiring Burke, the Leafs had a search committee that consisted of many people including the likes of Toronto sports lawyer Gord Kirke as well as a lengthy list of prominent high ranking members of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. Being an organization with the history and the tradition of the Leafs, the franchise was clearly able to land one of best candidates out there for the GM post in Brian Burke. The Maple Leafs definitely have the advantage over many other teams in the NHL as they have the money to go after the best management people in the business. As Burke is only two years removed from a Stanley Cup in Anaheim, Burke definitely belongs in the category of the elite GMs in hockey.
After already adding Nonis to his staff in Toronto, Burke has now made waves with the latest addition to his management staff. After working together in Anaheim, Burke has now hired esteemed goaltending coach Francois Allaire. The reputation of Allaire is a pretty significant one in NHL circles as throughout his career he has helped in the development of Hall of Famer Patrick Roy and Conn Smythe winning goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The hope is that Allaire can now help aid in the development of Vesa Toskala who is coming off an injury plagued season from last year.
The timing of Allaire’s hiring also comes at a point when the Leafs are trying to sign one of top goalies not playing in the NHL, Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. At 24 years of age, Gustavsson has most recently played in the Swedish Elite League and is expected to come to a final decision on what NHL team he will play for next year. Speculation is that there are about four teams that are in the mix for Gustavsson’s services including the aforementioned Toronto Maple Leafs. Time will tell whether the addition of Francois Allaire to the Toronto staff will have any impact whatsoever on the decision made by the Swedish goaltender.
When you are an organization with the history and tradition of the Toronto Maple Leafs, anything but winning is unacceptable. Now that is funny to say considering the fact that the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup in over 40 years, but it is nonetheless a reality. The constant media attention that the organization receives often becomes a voice for frustrated Leaf fans who are always there to remind you of how the Leafs have not been crowned champions since the 1960s.
Even in the late 1990s when the team did not draft well, the money the Leafs had to spend on players was usually enough to buy them a playoff spot. With Brian Burke as GM, there is a renewed sense of hope for followers of Leafs Nation who believe the team can succeed in a salary cap era via good drafting and good management. If the Leafs choose to, they can use their financial resources to hire the best scouts and best management staff in the business. With the recent hiring of Brian Burke, the Leafs have already proven that they are going after some of the biggest names in hockey. The hiring of goaltending coach Francois Allaire is another indication of this as it is another step forward for a hockey franchise that continues in search of its first Stanley Cup in over forty-two years.