How do you define “Opportunity”?


    After recovering from the initial shock of the Leafs trading yet another highly rated, potentially top end prospect (Tlusty in this case) for picks, prospects (Paradis in this case) or players who at best can be defined as “depth” acquisitions, I decided to sit back, absorb all of the feedback and coverage from this transaction and form an opinion based on rational thought processes and any available factual information.  Past my initial, oh no, here we go again feeling, I was uncertain as to my actual opinion on this deal.  After all, I have never seen the young Paradis play, knew very little about this prospect, and the only information I had available was that he was a late 1st round pick in last years entry draft.  So, I decided to err on the side of caution and keep my initial opinion on this transaction to myself.  After researching this prospect, reading the various scouting reports and watching some film, it became rather apparent that Mr Burke had traded a potential top 6 type of sniper for a 3rd-4th line character guy.  Someone who was physical, had speed, was fearless and could become a real heart and soul leader on an NHL roster one day.  Considering the intangibles this player could potentially bring down the road, I was willing to overlook the obvious imaginary offensive upside Mr Burke was touting with this prospect and the projections of a top 6 “power forward” type in the NHL and was settling in with a comfortable neutral, “Wait and See” decision on this transaction.

    However, in listening to Mr Burkes assessment and explanation of this transaction, one thing became quite apparent.  Maple Leafs management, going back some 15 years or more, somehow lack the ability to properly define and utilize a very simple word in the English language.  Mr Burke, a Harvard graduate no less, seems to have forgotten the appropriate usage of the term and is obviously quite baffled as to its meaning and appropriate application – The word is “Opportunity” – and it is a definition Leafs management dearly need to grasp, otherwise, this 40+ year Cup drought is not going to end anytime soon….

    Before continuing, I think it is important to actually define Opportunity..

    1.a situation or condition favorable for attainment of a goal.
    2.a good position, chance, or prospect, as for advancement or success.

    We Leaf fans are continually told how our prospects were given every “opportunity” to succeed, and as a result of their inability to succeed with their “opportunities”, the trade of a top prospect from practically zero return is ultimately justified.  Opportunity, as it pertains to an NHL prospect does not involve burying players in the minors and continually adding veterans with heavy contracts in front of them in the depth chart.  Opportunity does not involve giving a player spot duty on an NHL roster, limited to zero minutes, zero tolerance for mistakes, and when mistakes do happen, result in a transplant of a wooden bench into the players ass.  Opportunity does not involve a public flogging just before a demotion to the minors with the prospect fully aware they may never get another opportunity again with the big club, and even if they do, they will not really get a chance.  With the exception of a select few “chosen” ones (99% of the time based on size), the Leafs organization has been completely and utterly dysfunctional with regards to managing and developing their prospects.  Antropov and Ponikarovski for example were given real opportunities (both favourites of mine by the way).  Despite continual set backs, these players were given opportunity after opportunity to succeed, and eventually, the organization was rewarded for their patience and development.  Luke Schenn is another good example of how opportunity has been given to certain players and how prospects should in fact be handled.  He was not benched at the first sign of trouble.  There was no public flogging of Luke Schenn, no trips to the press box, no demotions to the minors.  Luke Schenn was and is being developed properly.  He was coached through his issues, he had his responsibilities slightly reduced, asked to simplify his game, put into positions to succeed and slowly built back up to a point when he can take on more responsibilities.  This is what opportunity means.

    What Mr Burke refers to as “continual opportunities” for a player like Tlusty is something else entirely, and is exactly the root cause of our inability to develop top end prospects and the continual pattern of watching our top end prospects go to other organizations and thrive.  It is actually getting to a point of complete absurdity where top end prospects simply cannot wait to get into another system so that they have a chance and get a real opportunity in the NHL.  There are literally 100’s of examples of NHL players who did not develop into the front line talent they ultimately became until playing 2 or 3 or even more seasons of pro hockey.  Very few players step into the NHL and become stars.  Many front line players took time to reach those levels – and they only get there with “opportunity”.   People should spend some time listening to Mr Hollands analysis of talent.  Listening to Mr Holland explain why he salvaged a player like Jeremy Williams off of the MLSE prospect junk pile – and ultimately come to understand how good, sustainable organizations identify talent and develop talent.

    The typical Leaf prospect will receive the Ian White treatment.  The kid had to sit in the press box to start last season.  Then he needed to go in as a forward, he needed to succeed at that position, and then he was given a real opportunity?  the kid is likely our best overall defenseman today.  Was a force in junior, was a force in the AHL and short of an absolute miracle, would have been disposed of for absolutely nothing.  It is not reasonable to expect a prospect to succeed under this definition of “opportunity”.  Another current example of a player defying the odds is Kulemin.  Scores 15 goals in his rookie season last year.  Starts this season as a healthy scratch.  When he does get an “opportunity”, it is 3rd and 4th line minutes.  In order to simply stay alive on the roster, he has needed to produce with zero opportunity.  He has more goals then Blake and Grabovski and 1 less goal then Stempniak while playing significantly less minutes, significantly less games, practically zero power play time and while being asked to take on a defensive role.  Yet, here he is, buried behind veterans with expensive contracts and buried in the depth chart behind prospects brought in by the new regime who have yet to demonstrate a fraction of what he has already proven – again, with no real opportunity presented to him.

    I often take some abuse in the comments section because of my focus on the past.  Unfortunately, as far as the Maple Leafs go, history is continually repeating itself.  Fans would do well to understand our past and understand how and why our franchise got to the point it is now.  The new regime is currently doing EXACTLY what previous new regimes did.  They are expunging the organization of the inherited prospects so that they can instill their own.  This is a never ending, vicious cycle, as the average lifespan of a regime does not allow for a cleaning of house and starting again, as by the time the new regime comes in, the previous regimes prospects are just about ready.  Dismissing them and replacing them with your own will just perpetuate this process.  This process is easily recognizable.  Mr Fletcher traded Doug Gilmour for a package that included Steve Sullivan and Jason Smith.  He passed on other assets such as Modin, Markov, etc..  Mr Quinn took over the organization and summarily dismissed 90% or more of the assets he inherited in favour of his own (how is an organization going to be successful if they lose their star assets for zero return?  it happened with the Gilmour trade, as the new regime simply disposed of the return and it happened again with Sundin with the entire no trade clause fiasco).  Mr Burke takes over from the previous regime, and the first thing he does – expunges the organization of the inherited prospects?  The real crime here is the justification down the road when these kids are successful someplace else and with real “opportunity”.  I simply cannot get over how management teams in Toronto can sell these moves to the public and how on earth the public buys these explanations.  Rather then admit that a trade was a mistake, or that the Leafs development system obviously failed with whatever specific player, or that the current management simply does not like this specific player, the most common excuse used by management is, “Hey, its not our fault, this player simply could not play in Toronto” – thereby absolving themselves of any blame while simultaneously indicating that the player was the issue and certainly not the organization or the management team or their development process.

    Sorry Mr Burke, I for one am no longer buying the propaganda.  If you want to expunge your organization of inherited prospects, then simply admit that.  There is absolutely no need to further insult a player that your organization has stifled in the development process.  You have after all taken actions which pretty clearly indicate you plan on breaking this cycle (actually, quite an impressive game plan if one takes the time to think about it).  I would wager that you are fully aware of this cycle based on the moves you have completed.  Acquiring older prospects like Bozak, Hanson and Gustavsson who are all NHL ready or very close to it.  Acquiring a player like Kessel who is a young, obviously NHL ready sniper in exchange for draft picks that are unlikely to be in the NHL by the time your replacement is named if you are not more immediately successful, inherited assets are only maintained if they are proven NHL players or very close to being NHL ready while you still maintain contractual flexibility with them (ie Stalberg, Gunnarsson, Kulemin, Grabovski).  All of the moves are completely indicative of your understanding of an NHL management teams lifecycle.  I do have hope that your approach will ultimately be successful and will break the cycle here in Toronto.  You have placed any chance of success and your future in Toronto ultimately in the hands of players like Bozak, Gustavsson, Hanson, Stalberg and Gunnarsson.  What I do not understand is why you chose to expunge so many inherited prospects with high end potential rather then actually giving them a legitimate and real opportunity first?  Hopefully, if Tlusty pans out as many (including myself) are predicting, you will not hide behind the “could not play in the Toronto spot light” mantra.  This is a kid who was the captain on his national team as a child.  He has had the weight of his entire town and country on his shoulders in a town and country where he was a star with massive expectations, wrapped around political tension and turmoil dropped on his shoulders at 16 years old or younger.  This kid just needed an opportunity Mr Burke.  And hopefully, when he gets that opportunity and if he is able to succeed, you will be capable of admitting that he succeeded because of the opportunity he was given by another organization, and not try and take away from his accomplishments by trying to fabricate a personality flaw to justify his lack of development in Toronto.   It is not an issue to give up on prospects or decide you want to go in a different direction, however, it is not appropriate to claim a prospect has received “Repeated Opportunities” and failed – when that is clearly and obviously not the case…