The Westminster Kennel Club certainly knows its dogs. Club officials contacted the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday to inquire about a possible co-promotion with the team and Miss P, the Canadian beagle that won Westminster's best-in-show award earlier this week in New York. No, the request did not come because the Leafs slid to the status of worst pooches in hockey.
The suddenly famous Miss P splits her time between Enderby, B.C., and the Greater Toronto Area where she lives with her handler William Alexander in suburban Milton. Hence the interest from Westminster in teaming up for a promotion. The Leafs, no doubt wary of the litany of dog jokes that could be unleashed on social media, have not decided if they will participate.
Nevertheless, if one more dog joke can be excused, Leafs management will continue to judge its own dog show as the NHL season winds down. Almost all of the present roster is available to be moved as the league's March 2 trade deadline approaches. Bigger pieces such as captain Dion Phaneuf and leading scorer Phil Kessel may be shipped out in the summer when rosters can more easily accommodate big contracts.
Also under examination by Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager David Nonis will be the roster of their AHL team now that they, as former president and GM Brian Burke did back in 2008 when he was hired, have taken a vow of rebuilding from within. Burke's plan went off the rails quickly when he made the Kessel trade for two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder, which is why the Toronto Marlies farm team's cupboard remains poorly stocked to this day.
A look at both the Leafs and Marlies rosters shows just how much of a challenge Shanahan and Nonis face. Remember, the alleged prospects on each roster represent the Leafs' efforts in the entry draft over the last half dozen years. After the Kessel trade, the Leafs hung on to their first-round picks and have had at least one since 2011, when they had two, forward Tyler Biggs at 22nd overall and defenceman Stuart Percy at 25th. Their first-round pick in 2012, defenceman Morgan Rielly, is on the big team while Fredrik Gauthier (2013) is still in junior hockey and their 2014 first-rounder, forward William Nylander, is with the Marlies.
After that, the prospect pile thins out considerably, which shows the obvious, that the Maple Leafs have never been much good at developing their own talent. Of the 20 players who dressed for Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, only seven were drafted or signed as youngsters by the Leafs. The culture change ahead of Shanahan involves much more than the one needed among the Leaf players.
The gold standard in this department, the Detroit Red Wings, have 19 homegrown players on their roster. Almost all of them, except for three or four like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg who made the team right away, spent significant time with the Red Wings' AHL farm team.
If this rebuilding plan is going to work the Leafs have to get better at developing players and fast. While judging players is always subjective, the Marlies do not look like a finishing school bursting with graduates ready to be NHL players let alone stars.
There are six players on the Leaf roster who have spent significant time with the Marlies. Only three can be considered decent NHL prospects and that includes centre Nazem Kadri and defenceman Jake Gardiner who have both been with the Leafs for at least the last two seasons. But both are a long way from establishing themselves as bona fide NHLers. Trevor Smith, 30, and Korbinian Holzer, 27, are not considered part of the long-range plan.
The third prospect is defenceman Andrew MacWilliam, 24, who was called up on Thursday on an emergency basis as the Leafs left for Carolina for Friday's game against the Hurricanes. His promotion might mean a trade for one of the other Leaf defencemen is close since an emergency recall is only made when a player on the roster is out with illness or injury or is expected to become unavailable. The Leafs did not identify such a player on Thursday.
Among the younger Marlies who have spent time with the Leafs are forwards Sam Carrick and Josh Leivo along with Percy and now MacWilliam. But it can be argued only Nylander, forward Connor Brown, MacWilliam and maybe Percy are showing they have the stuff to become NHL regulars.
That is a long way from the bumper crops the Red Wings get from their farm team.