Leafs' youngsters the key to success
George Popalis, Sports Network
|Matthias Plachta (L) clears the rink at the end of the second period of a scrimmage during Toronto's prospects camp at the Mastercard Centre on July 6, 2011. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Itís been a relatively quiet off-season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and general manager Brian Burke. Maybe too quiet for some, considering they have yet to sign their defenseman of the future in Luke Schenn, but what would a summer be in Toronto without a little bit of controversy? The Schenn situation, although interesting for water cooler conversation, deserves a little patience, though.
With fellow restricted free agent youngsters Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian yet to sign, the landscape has yet to be defined and as soon as ink hits paper on one of these deals, the others will follow.
Burke has always been a trailblazer and one shouldnít be surprised if heís the first to set the market price, but it is still a wait-and-see scenario. With prominent NHL agent Don Meehan representing both Schenn and Doughty, things could take some more time.
Other than Schenn, there hasnít been much to talk about in Leaf land since the signing of Tim Connolly earlier in the summer, and thatís probably a good thing. The last thing the team needs right now is a reckless free agent signing to shake up what is looking like a pretty solid young core.
The Leafs finally have a group of youngsters who are NHL-ready, or very close to it, and they donít need any washed-up veterans taking up valuable ice time. Itís a decent bet that Burke feels the same way, but stranger things have happened in Toronto before.
Sure, there are a few unrestricted free agents out there who could be useful in blue and white, but most of them come with more baggage than necessary. With a sturdy farm system and a strong youth component ready to take on more responsibility next season, all of Torontoís needs can be filled from within.
Forwards Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Luca Caputi, Matt Frattin and Jerry DíAmigo, and defensemen Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker are all in their early 20s and deserve a closer look. The only way to do that is thrust them into the fire, which is the only true way to evaluate what the organization has in terms of talent going forward.
If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs in the next few years ó and thatís still a big if ó it needs to be done with young players like the ones mentioned above playing more prominent roles. For the last 20 years fans have witnessed the signings of grizzled veterans and expensive free agents in an attempt to circumvent the building process, and itís resulted in some exciting playoff runs, but no Stanley Cup appearances.
And thatís really what the end goal needs to be, bringing a Cup back to Toronto. The only way to do that in todayís NHL is build from the inside out by developing young, cheap, in-house talent. In the end, that will be the foundation of the sustained and long-term success that the city has been craving. Hopefully this current managing team has the patience to do it the right way.