This Monday at the ACC we witnessed the Rebuild Bowl. The Toronto “Burned It to the Ground” Leafs versus the Calgary “Almost Burned it to the Ground” Flames
So who’s rebuild is better? On the surface it seems the Leafs have a bit of an edge as they took down the Flames rather handily 4-0 but let’s dig deeper.
The Flames started their rebuild in earnest on March 27, 2013 when they traded long time Captain and future HOFer Jarome Iginla. It was a franchise finally admitting they were old had no significant prospects in the system.
Since that day the Flames brought on a new GM (Doug Treliving), a new Coach (Glen Gulutzan) and have gathered in three high end draft picks. Sean Monahan 6th overall in 2013, Sam Bennett 4th overall in 2014 and Mathew Tkachuck 6th overall in 2016. They also swung a deal in 2015 to acquire Dougie Hamilton from Boston at the draft for the 15th overall pick that year and a couple of second round picks.
The Leafs started their rebuild in earnest January 6, 2015 when they fired head coach Randy Carlyle. You could argue that it was when they hired Brenden Shanahan after the 2014 season but Shanahan took his time, assessed the situation and really began burning it to the ground when he ousted Carlyle.
Since that day the Leafs traded David Clarkson, Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf (yes somehow they got rid of all of those contracts) and drafted Mitch Marner 4th overall in 2015 and Austin Matthews 1st overall in 2016. You can also add William Nylander to the list as he was drafted under the Shanahan regime in 2014.
These are two pretty dramatic turnarounds for two teams that have not seen much success in the last decade.
So here we are in 2017 and the Flames take on the Leafs at the ACC and given the head start the Flames have on the rebuild process they should be the better team. However, the Flames have stalled. They are flickering at most right now and the Leafs trounced them.
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have seen a flat line on their progression since last season. Sam Bennett has been playing so badly he finally was scratched for a game last week versus the Nashville Predators.
But there are bright spots. Dougie Hamilton is staking his claim as the top blueliner in Calgary and Matthew Tkachuk is having a Calder candidate season. Seriously, even compared with Matthews, Patrik Laine, Marner and Nylander – Tkachuk is having a fantastic rookie season. His GF% is 68.3% with 31 points of which 23 are primary points. His shooting percentage is 10.6% so these numbers are sustainable.
For comparison Matthews has a 61.5% GF%, 38 points with 34 of them primary points and a 14% shooting percentage. Laine has a 62.2% GF%, also 38 points with 32 being primary points and an 18.4% shooting percentage (that is not sustainable).
On the goaltending front the Leafs definitely have the edge right now. Frederik Andersen is playing some of the best hockey of his career. The Flames on the other hand have seen flashes of brilliance and periods of deplorable netminding from their duo of Chad Johnson and Brian Elliot.
So does this mean the Leafs, who seem to be hitting on all cylinders right now, have done their rebuild better and faster than the Flames? It may seem that way now but the Leafs have work to do. With Morgan Reilly on the sidelines their defense is still woeful. When Roman Polak is your third best defenseman you have issues. The Leafs also have no solid backup goalie. If Andersen goes down they have some major issues.
In the end neither team is winning a cup this year. The drought the Flames are currently experiencing will happen to the Leafs over the next year or two. Matthews, Marner and Nylander will see periods of struggle just as Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett are now experiencing.
The key is how these two teams continue to build towards the future. This offseason both teams will have some significant cap space to spend to fill in the gaps around their young superstars.How these signings are managed will go a long way towards determining who makes a serious cup run over the next few years.
But at least for Flames fans and Leaf fans the rebuilds were implemented. Iggy was traded and Carlyle was fired. The short term pain means bright futures for both clubs. The alternative is doing nothing and ending up like the Vancouver Canucks.