Sure, Toronto topped L.A., but the Maple Leafs are definitely no Kings

Sure, Toronto topped L.A., but the Maple Leafs are definitely no Kings

The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won a hard-fought road battle with the Los Angeles Kings last night, but they’re still losing the war when it comes to putting a quality hockey team on the ice. A few years ago, the two sides’ general managers—Brian Burke for Toronto, Dean Lombardi for L.A.—were entrusted with the same task: turn a floundering hockey franchise into a long-term contender. Today, the sad-sack Leafs are fighting to stay out of the doghouse in the eastern conference, while the Kings are poised to make another post-season run. According to the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek, Los Angeles represents everything the Leafs could have done, but haven’t, since Burke took over.

As Burke tried to rebuild the Leafs organization on the fly—by among other things, surrendering two first-round draft choices to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Phil Kessel’s rights—the Kings undertook the polar opposite approach. They hoarded all of their draft choices and went all scorched-earth, deciding to build a new foundation from the ground up.

Since 2003, or when they selected the trio of Dustin Brown, Brian Boyle and Jeff Tambellini in the first round, the Kings had a total of 12 first-round picks in seven years, including three in the top five. Additionally, the Kings picked up a 13th first-rounder when they acquired Jack Johnson (third overall in the 2005 draft) in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.

It was the sort of patient but painstakingly slow building philosophy that many thought Toronto should have undertaken when Burke first took over and inherited a team that needed a massive overhaul.

So far, the results speak for themselves. Los Angeles is 23-18-1, only two points out of a playoff spot in the more competitive western conference. Toronto is languishing near the bottom of the east with a losing 17-20-4 record and in desperate need of divine intervention if they’re even to think about qualifying for post-season play. L.A.’s trio of young homegrown talents—defencemen Drew Doughty, sniper Anze Kopitar and goalie Jonathan Quick—offers intrigue and promise, while Burke’s big recruits—Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel and Mike Komisarek—haven’t come close to realizing their rumoured potential.

It would still be a stretch to call L.A. true contenders, but there’s reason to believe that their day may come soon. Sometimes the Kings look good, bordering on great. The Leafs, on the other hand, always look bad, bordering on awful.

The bottom line: there’s hope for the fans in La-La Land. In Hogtown, not so much.

• Inconsistency reigns during Kings’ maturation process [Globe and Mail]
Even Burke’s best options aren’t great options [National Post]
• Leafs earn third straight win [Toronto Sun]
Leafs win third straight, 3-2 over Kings [Toronto Star]