As Brendan Shanahan settles into his new role as president of the Maple Leafs, he’ll have many issues to examine: the Leafs’ cookie-cutter in-game entertainment, for instance; or the deafening volume of the speakers facing press row. But there’s one topic that ought to take priority over all others – and it’s not the employment status of Toronto’s current coach or GM.
It’s drafting and development, an area in which the Leafs have been woefully lacking for as long as anyone can remember. If anything is going to provide meaningful change in the years to come, it’s better results from their group of talent evaluators and groomers.
If you view Toronto’s draft history/results through the prism of THN’s annual Future Watch edition, the reality becomes all the more painful. Let’s look back over the past decade and see where the Leafs’ collection of prospects have ranked every year. (And remember, each issue's rankings are a result of consultations with a large group of NHL GMs and scouts.)
2005: 24th overall
If you label the 2010 season an anomaly, you can see the Leafs have performed abysmally in building a solid pool of young talent. But wait, there’s more damning evidence: In each edition of Future Watch, the same panel of scouts also determines the top 50 NHL prospects every year. Let’s go year-by-year and determine how many Toronto prospects were in the top 50 (the rank of their top prospect each year will be in parenthesis):
2005: 2 players (top ranked prospect: 33rd overall)
2006: 1 (37th)
2007: 2 (23rd)
2008: 2 (24th)
2010: 3 (13th)
2011: 1 (13th)
2012: 1 (18th)
2013: 1 (19th)
The Leafs hadn’t bulked up their scouting staff until former GM Brian Burke joined the organization in November of 2008 – and while that scouting staff of 23 is now among the largest, if not the largest in the NHL, those results are nothing to take pride in. In fact, given Toronto’s resources, they're absolutely inexcusable.
In fairness, scouting isn’t an exact science. But pro sports aren’t about fairness. They’re about the bottom line, and the Leafs’ bottom line in regard to amateur scouting has been too close to the very bottom for way too long.
If Shanahan can improve Toronto’s drafting and development to the same degree he improved the NHL’s disciplinary office, he’ll have achieved something monumental – and something his predecessors never were able to do.