Posts Tagged ‘maple leafs curse’

Today, I wanted to take a closer look at the Toronto sports scene as a whole and attempt to determine which Toronto team is the likeliest or is best positioned to win a championship.  The teams that will be included in the discussion/argument will be the three majors, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors.  Apologies go out to the Toronto Argos and Toronto MLS as my knowledge of those two leagues isn’t what it should be.

We will rank the three teams based on key factors and issues including:

-financial sustainability (willingness and ability to spend when the need arises), 

-current roster and prospects going forward

-level of competition (i.e. – division/conference/league played in)

-season and playoff structures of each sport, travel requirements

-competence of management

-Intangibles – history/pedigree/precedent, has the team had prior success and/or titles, has there been a recent example of a team in a similar situation rise from the ashes?


1.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Maple Leafs are an absolute cash cow, they generate insane revenues and money will never be an impediment to the Leafs success going forward.  The NHL is a salary cap world and does not allow the Leafs to really flex their financial muscles as it would like to.

2.       Toronto Raptors

–          The Raptors are owned by the same teacher’s pension fund that operates the Maple Leafs and have also shown the willingness to spend up the salary cap.  The NBA has a soft cap and luxury tax system, and so far the Raptors have not gone into the luxury tax although there have been overtones that the team would be willing depending on the situation.

3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The Blue Jays are owned by media mogul and massive Rogers Corporation – a company double the size of “Steinbrenner Inc”.  The Blue Jays have opened the coffers over the past few years and have spent upwards of 85-90 million on payroll.  They have also gone on record that they are willing to spend on a Boston, Los Angeles or Chicago level if the team is in a position to seriously compete.

Analysis: Contrary to popular belief (aka Americans) all of the three major Toronto sports franchises are in outstanding shape financially and all have shown the willingness to be competitive in their respective sports.  I was tempted to rank the Maple Leafs 1 and Raptors 1a as with a salary cap system firmly in place, neither can really be considered superior to the other.  The Jays still have to prove their willingness to spend to rank any higher than last.


1.       Toronto Raptors

–          The competition has stiffened in the Eastern Conference now that the Triami Heat pulled off the biggest coup in free agent history adding the best player in the game Lebron James to Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.  However, the Raptors still play in a division with the aging Boston Celtic, perennial losers in New York Knicks (Stoudemire be damned), 12-70 New Jersey Nets (Russian billionaire be damned) and the 27-55 Philadelphia 76ers.


2.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Eastern Conference is the weaker of the two NHL conferences so that helps the Leafs slightly, however the division is one of the tougher in the game featuring solid teams and tough matchups in Boston and Buffalo and emotional rivalries in Ottawa and Montreal.  Aside from Buffalo and Montreal, all of the teams in this division have improved in the off-season.

 3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The AL East is simply the Cadillac of sports divisions, the best and toughest division in all of sports.  Making the Jays relative success in the past 4-5 seasons even more impressive, in any other division they are perennial contenders.  The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spend a combined $350+ million on payroll, and are not scared to sign ‘above slot’ in the amateur drafts, ensuring their future success for generations to come.  The Tampa Bay Rays have become a model organization in terms of scouting and development and only financial concerns can stop them from becoming a powerhouse.  The Baltimore Orioles are in transition but also possess some pretty impressive young assets (Wieters, Jones, Matusz, Tillman, and Markakis).

Analysis: As I assume you have figured out already, being ranked last means you have the toughest challenge and stiffest competition.  The poor Blue Jays are in tough and will have to continue to aggressively scour the planet for top young talent, but under new GM AA have already shown a willingness to do just that.  The Raptors and Leafs are again pretty even in terms of the level of competition they will have to defeat in order to eventually win a championship – neither has a cakewalk, but definitely an easier climb than the Blue Jays.


1.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          The Blue Jays have the best current assortment of talent to work with among the three teams.  They possess good young (cost controlled) pitchers in Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and Marc Rzcepsynski as well as promising youngsters in Kyle Drabek, Chad Jenkins, Deck Maguire and Zach Stewart.  They have some pretty solid regulars in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Vernon Wells and Yunel Escobar and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of highly touted 1B Brett Wallace, C JP Arencibia, C Travis D’arnaud amid some other interesting pieces.

 2.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          The Leafs have a major league defence core, one of the deepest in the NHL and if all can play to their normal career levels has a chance to be outstanding.  Assuming Tomas Kaberle isn’t dealt the Leafs will line up with Kaberle/Phaneuf, Komisarek/Beauchemin, and Gunnarsson/Schenn – that is simply deep and talented.  The Leafs also have an NHL calibre backup in Jeff Finger, as well as budding youngster Keith Aullie (among other decent promising pieces).  The forward group is another story, with only Phil Kessel returning as a legitimate NHL scorer the Leafs will be depending on huge internal improvement from Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Christian Hanson and Nik Kulemin as well as immediate impacts from Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong.  If the trade chip known as Kaberle can net a top six forward, things will be looking up for this group.  The Leafs also possess two quality goaltenders in JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson – both of whom are expected to help improve the absolute sieve-like effort that was given last season.

 3.       Toronto Raptors

–          Losing Chris Bosh was a serious blow to the current roster, however I do not think the cupboard is as bare as people are making it out to be, and in the NBA talent comes and goes very quickly allowing teams to reload in a heartbeat.  They still have a 20-point scorer in 7 foot Andre Bargnani who has his warts but is pretty widely panned as one of the more intriguing front court player in the league.  Demar Derozan was picked #7 overall in the 2009 NBA draft and has already shown increase physical strength and an improve physique in the summer league, people do not give him enough credit for what type of ceiling he could have, we could be looking at a Tracy McGrady type improvement.  We have solid professionals in Amir Johnson, Leandro Barbosa, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Linus Kleiza and Reggie Evans along with budding youngsters Ed Davis (a steal for the Raptors at #13), Solomin Alobi and Sonny Weems.  It also appears Bryan Colangelo is not finished in his roster makeover and I am not that pessimistic with the roster now or going forward.

Analysis: None of these teams are properly built to win in either their current or next seasons but I have to give the Jays the overall edge in current and prospective talent, although the Leafs possess a major league defence and an experience goalie and are not far off the Jays.  The Raptors are not going to be a great team in the next 1-2 seasons depending upon what moves Colangelo can manoeuvre but in the NBA lightning can strike quick and talent is there for the taking via the draft/free agency that can help step in immediately, unlike the NHL and MLB in which players are brought along rather slowly.


1.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          Say what you want about Brian Burke and company, but there is a proven track record of winning and success, and even one Stanley Cup ring to show for.  Burke is surrounded by a plethora of good hockey men and the Leafs spend heavily in the front office, scouting and development areas.  The Leafs are in good hands as Brian Burke has a vision, a pedigree for success and the ability to put that plan into action.

 2.       Toronto Raptors

–          Again, see above, although he has his nay-Sayers Brian Colangelo is a brilliant basketball mind, capable of turning around an organization and able to admit mistakes.  I still have faith in BC and being able to shed the horrible Turkuglu contract shows a willingness to admit he was wrong and rectify the situation by adding a very intriguing combo guard in Leandro Barbosa.  He had a steal lined up with Charlotte (adding Chandler and Diaw for Jose Calderon) but Michael Jordan reneged at the last minute (players were told they were traded) and the deal was stopped.  He has done as well as any GM could have with the roster he inherited and is a mover and a shaker, always looking for ways to make the team more competitive.

 3.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          AA has the chance to be ranked number one on this list in about 3-4 years if he keeps up this pace.  The boy wonder has been an absolute marvel in his short stint, showing patience with his young pitching staff, tact with the media and the ability to pick a few diamonds in the rough (i.e. Jose Bautista, John Buck & Alex Gonzalez) and has totally beefed up the scouting and development, areas that had been lacking under the JP Ricciardi regime.  This team is in very good hands for the foreseeable future. 

Analysis: All three franchises are in good hands with capable front office people firmly in place.  I was tempted to move the Blue Jays to number two with Paul Beeston also firmly entrenched in the Blue Jays culture, but Burke and Colangelo just have more past success to point to as an indicator of future success.  Burke gets raked over the coals for the Phil Kessel trade and though it is nice to step to the podium and draft a young hot prospect, what did we expect to deal for a 22 year old 30 goal scorer – Lee Stempniak?


1.       Toronto Blue Jays

–          They have history on their side as the only champion in Toronto sports (among this group) over the past fifty years so this hopefully bodes well for the future as they have shown they can put it all together.  Recent example would be the Tampa Bay Rays, they rose from a fairly similar roster situation and totally revamped their scouting and development program and are now amongst the top teams in the MLB – it shows it can be done, even in the AL East.

 2.       Toronto Raptors

–          They have at least made the playoffs and won a division in the past 5-6 years so they have one up on the Maple Leafs and in the NBA you can strike lightning in a bottle in the draft, so that gives the Raptors some hope.  Recent example would be the Milwaukee Bucks when they made a few roster tweaks after losing their franchise player (Michael Redd) to injury and looked very respectable last season, a team on the rise.

 3.       Toronto Maple Leafs

–          A team that has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967 is plain worse than a Raptors team that has never won a title in their respective sport.  A well talked about drought only adds to the pressure that is placed on the Maple Leafs in a completely hockey crazed market that is Toronto.  Recent example would be the Chicago Blackhawks, they broke the longest streak in hockey after winning the cup in 2009/2010 – unfortunately they were also built heavily through the draft with young studs Toews, Kane, Keith and company.

Analysis: This was a pretty clear cut choice as the Jays have a success laden history and a team in Tampa Bay to model their hopeful future success on – Toronto Blue Jays clearly have the best intangibles/pedigree for future success.

Let’s see how they rank on a basic scoring system with lowest total score in the five categories obviously being the best: (highly scientific I know)

1. Toronto Maple Leafs – 9 pts

2. Toronto Raptors – 10 pts

3. Toronto Blue Jays – 11 pts

Before putting pen to proverbial paper my initial thought was the Leafs are probably the closest franchise in Toronto to winning the next championship, basically I think it is easier to turn around a hockey team than basketball or baseball.  With the salary cap and the Leafs willing to eat contract or throw bad ones to the wolves or at the very least the AHL (see Finger, Jeff) they probably are the best bet – which is sort of sad but true at this point.

The Raptors and Jays are fairly even with neither really having much of an edge over the other, the NBA has more playoff participants and an easier road overall and the Jays play in the harder league (AL) and the toughest division (AL East) with two of the greatest and richest franchises in the world (New York and Boston) so it makes sense to rank the Raptors over them, for now. 

Nobody would confuse this with the golden era of the Toronto sports scene, but there is at the very least a glimmer of hope for all three, right?

What do you think?