SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers, Leafs: two approaches to rebuild

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

There are already people rewriting history.

The Edmonton Oilers are now being portrayed as being brilliant in deciding to blow the team up and build from the basement with high draft picks such as No. 1 overall Taylor Hall.

And there are those who believe Brian Burke came to Toronto with the intention to rebuild the Maple Leafs by doing deals, using his genius to mortgage the future for an instant fix with the likes of Phil Kessel.

Folks forget that it was exactly the opposite.

And as the Leafs and Oilers prepare to meet at Rexall Place tonight, consider how it could have been if both teams hadn’t taken major U-turns along the way.

People forget that Burke came to Toronto, where the cupboard was bare, talking about a five-year plan with lean years ahead while the Leafs rebuilt through the draft.

And people forget that Oilers owner Daryl Katz began by trying to spend to the cap and make runs at every free agent out there while GM Kevin Lowe grossly overpaid veterans and then made expensive mistakes such as Sheldon Souray.

While the Oilers didn’t trade away their draft picks from their three previous seasons of missing the playoffs, even at the start of last season they were still trying to buy their way into the playoffs when GM Steve Tambellini signed free agent goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.

It was when Khabibulin and Ales Hemsky were injured and the expiry date hit on several veterans in a pool poisoned by players like Souray that it exploded in their faces.

That’s when they “decided” to blow it up.

But once down that path, they haven’t detoured. Now there’s no turning back, and the fans in Edmonton wouldn’t allow the Oilers to do so even if the team wanted to. They’re loving watching these young guy growing up in front of their eyes.

Then there’s the Leafs.

One day Burke woke up and decided to scrap his original plan and trade two first-round picks and a second-rounder to Boston for Kessel.

With or without the rewriting of history, there’s a fascinating study here as the Maple Leafs visit not only Edmonton this week, but Calgary.

You could make a case that if the Leafs hadn’t made the Kessel deal last year, they could have finished last and picked first and had Hall, as well as first choice this year (they’re 28th), not to mention that second pick.

Current statistics:

Taylor Hall: 10-6-16.

Phil Kessel: 11-6-17.

Do you think Burke could trade Kessel right now for even just one high first-round pick?

But there’s more involved.

Add up the total salaries on the ice when the two teams step on the ice for the national anthems.

Last Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs had $53.453 million in salaries in their lineup.

On Sunday night against the Vancouver Canucks, with Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff out, the Oilers iced $38.239 million.

Judging by what we’ve watched so far this season, tonight’s tilt isn’t likely to look like a $53-million team vs. a $38-million club.

The idea with building through the draft is that you assemble and develop the talent and then fill in the holes with free agents.

Once Souray is off the books, Edmonton is going to have all sorts of room to do just that. And all of a sudden all sorts of players aren’t going to care much about the temperatures here in January if they have a chance to play with the young talent on this team.

Which sets up the next comparison, when the Leafs visit Calgary to take on the bottom-feeding Flames.

Unlike the Laffs, the Flames have their first pick. But their second-rounder was traded to Toronto (and the Leafs sent it to Chicago). Edmonton has Calgary’s third-round pick from the Steve Staios deal.

The Flames look a lot like the Leafs — except for one thing.

In Calgary they can still blow it up. And how can they not if they miss the playoffs again with what looks like an over-the-hill team?

While Flames fans await the fate of GM Darryl Sutter and coach Brent Sutter, shouldn’t they be more concerned about the big picture for the future?

Do you want to be the Leafs?

Or do you want to be the Oilers?

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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