Out of Town Notebook: Leafs vs. Oilers – Which Rebuild is Better?

James Mirtle in the Globe and Mail asked an interesting question Monday – which rebuild is better, the Leafs approach or the Oilers approach?

Ultimately, the answer to this question can only come years from now, when the young promise on each roster has been fulfilled (or not fulfilled, for that matter).

However, as the continued success of the Detroit Red Wings (and continued failure of the Columbus Blue Jackets) suggests, there are franchise factors that can have a major impact on the development of a successful team.

Good ownership is one of these factors. Every fan wishes their team had an owner not only with deep pockets but an ego that demands on-ice success.

A strong front office is another factor. Management that can create an organizational culture that breeds success, dedication and trust. One that can analyze the on-ice product, adapt to new innovations around the league and make difficult decisions when the time comes. A strong front office includes a talented scouting staff that can find NHL-level talent beyond the first round on a consistent basis.

An excellent coaching and training staff is another factor. Staff who can execute management’s vision, communicate with the modern player, know their hockey Xs and Os and can make sure each player is ready to compete on a nightly basis.

Given these factors, the more relevant question to ask right now is which franchise, Toronto or Edmonton, has the people in place to execute its rebuild most effectively?


Toronto’s ownership, even with Rogers Communications and Bell Canada taking over controlling interest, seems like it will be entirely focused on the bottom line for the conceivable future.

Meanwhile, in Oilers owner Daryl Katz, Edmonton has a passionate, deep pocketed owner who cares about the success of the hockey club. His communication skills leave something to be desired, but most fans will take an engaged owner over a faceless board of governors any day.

Ownership Edge: Oilers

Front Office

Say what you will about Brian Burke, but he’s won a Cup; helped build the Canucks on- and off-ice into the juggernaut they are today; and has a league reputation as an honest, straight-shooter who takes care of his players.

Sure, speeding-up the Leaf rebuild process by targeting young, established NHL players didn’t exactly pan out. However it did bring the Leafs Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, two B+ level talents.

What Burke has done well though is surround himself with the deepest (and most expensive) front office in the league, and used what draft picks and money (for college players) he’s had to rebuild the Leafs prospect pool (currently ranked 8th by Hockey’s Future).

Meanwhile, Steve Tambellini has had a puzzling start to his career as an NHL General Manager. Hiring Pat Quinn and Tom Renney to serve as co-coaches was the first head-scratcher. Giving Corey Potter a 2-year contract extension after less than a season’s worth of experience is another. The Oilers front office has been slow to address team weaknesses of size and defense as well.

The Colin Fraser trade dispute was a reputational hit, and something that will add to the Oilers’ struggles to attract free agents. At least Hockey’s Future ranks their organization 4th in terms of prospects, so it looks like the team is drafting well. That seems about the only edge it has on Toronto though.

Front Office Edge: Leafs


Neither Toronto’s Ron Wilson nor Edmonton’s Tom Renney should be considered an elite coach. Both have had limited success doing what their respective GMs have asked of them. Wilson’s implemented an up-tempo style, even when his roster was littered with players who couldn’t play that style very well. Renney is teaching the young Oilers how to become better professionals, but the team has been among the league’s worst for three years running.

There are things to like about both team’s assistant coaches. Toronto’s Scott Gordon has had the powerplay among the league’s best all year, while Greg Cronin seems to have fixed the penalty kill (no goals against in 15 games). Edmonton’s Associate Coach Ralph Krueger is an international coaching legend, with strong communication and motivational skills.

The biggest difference between the two teams in this area is the training staff. The Oilers have been cursed in recent seasons by the injury bug, punishing a team with little-to-no depth. Injuries haven’t had the same impact on Toronto’s improving roster.

Coaching Edge: Leafs
Any discussion of which rebuild is better has to take into consideration who is executing that rebuild.

Both the Leafs and Oilers are flawed organizations with young, talented rosters. But while Edmonton may have higher-end talent on-ice, right now Toronto has stronger people off-ice. As a result, the Leafs seem like the better bet to realize their potential.


  • Does it really matter that Sam Gagner may have only had 7-points last week? I know I don’t care if the referees are extra generous with their assists.
  • One last Oilers thought – Jordan Eberle, at the time of his draft, projected favourably as another Dany Heatley. Just two years later, Eberle looks to have already eclipsed Heatley as a player. If he can get to 78-points (he has 54 now), he’ll become the highest scoring Oiler since Doug Weight in 2000-01.
  • The Red Wings can deny it all they want, but they desperately need one of Joey MacDonald or Ty Conklin to be solid in goal until Jimmy Howard gets back. The Central Division is a beast, and any prolonged slump could mean St. Louis, Nashville or Chicago leap past them in the standings. It’s hard to get four teams from the same division into the playoffs. The Red Wings can’t afford a set back.
  • If I’m an Eastern Conference team that thinks it can make a post-season run, I am calling Montreal about Hal Gill. Skating-aside, Gill remains one of the top defensive defensemen in the NHL. He would look great in a Rangers uniform.
  • Other trade matches “made in heaven”: Marek Zidlicky to Detroit (a great skating, puck-moving defenseman on a team that plays a puck possession game); Ales Hemsky to Nashville (Hemsky would immediately become the most offensively talented player the Predators have had since Peter Forsberg); Evgeni Nabokov to Tampa Bay (if the Lightning decide to go for the Division crown in a weak Southeast Division); Tuomo Ruutu to Chicago (Blackhawks are incredibly weak on the left-side); Vinny Prospal to Los Angeles (a nice complimentary scorer on a team that needs to find some quickly).
  • Naturally, none of the pairings above have any chance of actually happening, but it’s fun to speculate.
  • Former NHL owner Howard Baldwin talks NHL expansion and hockey in Hartford.
  • Speaking of expansion,more about Seattle as a possible destination for the Coyotes.
  • Here’s former Orca Bay President and CEO Stan McCammon on a possible NHL team in Seattle.
  • This is kind of neat – a breakdown of who sits where in the Avalanche locker room.
  • A nice piece on what Ilya Kovalchuk has become for the Devils.
  • Here’s Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts.

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3 Responses

  1. bdiddy18 says:

    some other differences between Toronto and Edmonton

    Oilers actually called it a rebuild while Burkie would spit at any mention of the word. This is also evident in how all moves made since Kessel where made to attempt to make the playoffs that specific year not build for the future. 

    so on building blocks for the future – its the Oilers in a landslide

    The Oilers have a core being built around Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle

    The Leafs ..well .. Nazeeem…actually nope its just still Kessel and the stroke of luck that Joffrey Lupul remembered he was a hockey player.

    Yes the Leafs MAY ….I repeat MAY just make the playoffs this year.  Credit burke for doing some decent “patchwork” that might get them to 8th.  And then? 

    Darryl Katz said when he took over ownership and then again when they announced the rebuild upon conclusion of the 2009-2010 Season.  He doesn’t want to just see a playoff team, He wants a championship team.  Will Tambellini/Renney combination lead the way… perhaps not..but the pieces are slowly starting to form to not just make the playoffs but go deep in the playoffs.

    As for Brian Burke – he deviated from his Canucks model – built via draft with the No. 2 and No. 3 pick of the Sedins, and the similar model which he inherited in Anaheim who drafted Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan.  And opted the more expensive trade and create mode.  That might get the Leafs a playoff ticket but there is no chance in hell it his goaltending duo of Reimer/Gustavson survives one round let alone 4.    Basically the Maple Leafs of 2012 and beyond are on the roller coaster ride of the Oilers of one year in one year out of 1995 to 2006.

  2. Thanks Bdiddy18. Look, I 100% agree with you. If you look at high-end talent, the Oilers have it in spades over the Leafs. I also think the Leafs, as currently constituted, are destined to be in a playoff spot battle over the next few years. My argument is that I have less confidence in the Oilers maximizing their prospective talent than I do in the Leafs. At some point, the Oilers are going to have to fix their defense and goaltending (although I’ve always been a Dubnyk fan). Maybe the Oilers have those solutions in the pipeline (I know they’ve got some good defensive prospects). But if the Oilers have to go out and trade/UFA their way into solving their weaknesses, I just don’t think Tambo and company are up to it. I also don’t think Renney is the type of coach who is around for winning-time. So do the Oilers have better offensive talent than the Leafs youngsters – absolutely. Do I think they potentially have a higher ceiling than the Leafs organization? Probably. Do I think the Oilers franchise will get the most out of that talent in terms of championships and playoff wins? Nope. I think we’re going to look back on these Oilers as a missed opportunity; whereas I think we’ll look at the Leafs and say “they were exactly what they were supposed to be.”

  3. bdiddy18 says:

    Well the Oilers have window of opportunity hasn’t even opened yet, the defensive warts must be addressed but they will be trading from a position of depth to obtain the help they need.  I am in agreement with the management of the Oilers, more so the coach than the GM but much like in Pittsburgh (firing Therrien and winning with Blysma) and in Chicago (firing Savard and winning with Quenville) the Oilers will do the same. 

    It took the Sedins and Kesler some time before they became the true core of the franchise, followed by suprises like the emergence of Alex Burrows.

    The Oilers are basically back to the days when you could mop the ice with the twins, but kids grow up so fast these days……

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