Maple Leafs Watch: Future no brighter than present

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This week, I bring mixed tidings. The good news – at least, from everybody at The Hockey News – is our highly anticipated Future Watch issue has arrived on newsstands for readers to enjoy.

The not so-good news: if you’re a Maple Leafs fan, the near-future probably won’t warrant much watching.

Our 2008 Future Watch special edition ranked Toronto’s stable of prospective NHLers 28th overall – the same spot they occupied in last season’s ranking – ahead of only the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Of course, Marlies goalie Justin Pogge could evolve into the second coming of Gump Worsley, and Russian forward Nikolai Kulemin may realize the upside that had Toronto’s management drooling as recently as last season. As well, the NHL’s history is rife with stories of out-of-nowhere rises to stardom, and the Buds might luck out and benefit from such an occurrence or two.

But obviously, the Leafs won’t soon face the same tough decisions ahead as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Both of those teams have to choose which members of their core group of skilled youngsters to invest in long-term, and which players salary cap constraints will force them to part ways with.

Still, Toronto’s management and ownership has a golden opportunity to alter the franchise’s Future Watch fortunes for the better. That’s because there is no cap limit regarding monies spent on player scouting and development.

Therefore, the Leafs can pay double or triple the going rate and hire as many top-level amateur hockey scouts as they want. Their unparalleled NHL fortunes can establish a massive advantage for them, in an area that has proven to be a major factor in securing Stanley Cups time and again.

When hockey observers identify the elite developers of young talent, they focus on names such as Detroit’s Jim Nill, and New Jersey’s David Conte. However, there are others who could help Toronto just as much, including Canadiens director of player development Trevor Timmins, and Ducks assistant GM David McNab.

Regardless of who is named Toronto’s next GM, it is imperative someone in management has an impressive track record in the production and betterment of young players.

Subsequent glowing results in THN’s Future Watch – and the Leafs’ championship aspirations – depend on it.

This column also appears in the Toronto Metro Newspaper.

Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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