Its Not About Just Getting In
So both the Stanley Cup finalists from Vancouver and the champions from Boston have been vanquished, and there's this rush now to draw all kinds of lessons from what has transpired so far in the 2012 playoffs.
Its like winning one round, or losing one round, proves or disproves all these theories.
Six weeks ago Dean Lombardi was about to be fired. Now, with his Kings having toppled the Canucks, he's a genius. Ditto for George McPhee in Washington, with the Caps still celebrating this morning after shocking the Bruins in overtime Wednesday night in Massachussetts.
Beyond that, because the No. 8 seeded Kings won and the No. 7 seeded Capitals also did, and quite possibly the eighth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa Senators, may well advance tonight against the New York Rangers, there's once again this popular notion making the rounds that the success of these teams proves that all you have to do is do whatever it takes to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and success will follow.
People, people, people.
To look at the Caps and Kings and imagine these are teams that aggressively sacrificed youngsters and prospects for past-their-prime vets just to qualify for the post-season and are now benefitting is not just inaccurate, it's dead wrong.
These are clubs that have been building for seven years or more, carefully gathering picks and young players, and the result over the past week is that both have won a round over a favoured opponent.
To imagine, as some are, that teams like Buffalo, Toronto or Calgary should have sent first round selections or blue-chippers packing at the trade deadline just to get in, and then would have had as good a shot at the Cup as anyone, is preposterous.
The point is that Washington and Los Angeles, over the years, have mostly avoided doing just that. St. Louis too, and Ottawa. Heck, the Sens were doing the opposite a year ago, peddling Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly to acquire futures. The Kings tried a shortcut by giving up a first rounder and a prospect for Dustin Penner and it didn't work. The Caps dealt goalie Semyon Varlamov last summer for a first rounder. Those that are now espousing this get-in-no-matter-the-cost strategy should know that the Caps, with their goaltending then in the hands of Tomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth, could undoubtedly have traded Braden Holtby before this year's deadline for immediate help in their troubled regular season, but McPhee did not so such thing.
Damn straight the league is so tight the first round matchups are anything but lopsided. But the Kings and Caps spent years trying to get there the right way. So when Leaf GM Brian Burke says he could have made deals to move kids or picks just to get into the playoffs but didn't, that's actually following the model of L.A. and Washington.
The last time the Leafs did a kids-for-proven-help was back in 2008 when interim GM Cliff Fletcher dealt Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for winger Lee Stempniak. Well, how'd that work out? Should Burke really have moved Jake Gardiner for some 28-year-old forward at this year's deadline, or sent Joe Colborne packing for a 30-year-old blueliner if that would have got the Leafs a playoff berth?
Of course not. In fact, given the choice between getting 24-year-old Steve Downie and 20-year-old Carter Ashton from Tampa in a deal for defenceman Keith Aulie, the Leafs went for the youngster. Sure, Downie would have helped get the Leafs into the playoffs, and it's not yet clear whether Ashton will be a good pro, but Downie is a restricted free agent this summer looking for more than $3 million per on a multi-year deal and he wasn't able to help Colorado get into the post-season anyway.
Everybody wants to pile on Burke for every statement he has made, and he made them and is suffering for it now. Hyperbole has undercut his position. But to mock the guy for eschewing the kind of quick fix moves that got the Leafs into the mess they're trying to work out of is really short-sighted analysis.