Wednesday, January 23, 2008

State of Leaf Nation

With the firing of John Ferguson, Jr. on Tuesday, the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs continues to hang in the balance. The interim hiring of Cliff Fletcher doesn't seem to me to be anything more than a new set of eyes on the situation. The likelihood that Fletcher is going to make any moves for the team before (or on) the February 26th trade deadline seems unlikely.

What I had gathered from the press conference on Tuesday is that Fletcher has joined the organization to give his professional opinion (of over 50 years experience) of what the actual state of the Leafs is. But as we all know, the media has done it's best to convince everyone, including the Leafs Board of Directors, that it isn't very good. Saying that, the hiring of Cliff Fletcher seems to be somewhat redundant.

There is only one word I can think of that can describe the upper management of the Maple Leafs organization: scared. They are seemingly petrified of the necessary changes that need to be made that would make the Leafs a winning organization again. There is a little red button on the Boardroom table that has a label saying "Reset" and they just continue to stare at it, like a parent not wanting to let go of their baby, afraid that the big bad world will change him/her so much that they won't recognize them anymore.

I would sure hate to see my loser kid win. (Please note the sarcasm)

Unfortunately, with all the media coverage, players are caught in the crossfire or are just plain being aimed at. Between the pity and the sheer greed of market value, Mats Sundin (John P.) continues to be the focus of attention. Admittedly, Sundin is the most valuable commodity on the team and could possibly pave the on-ramp to the highway of the rebuilding process for the Leafs. The 37 year-old centre doesn't have too many years left and he is the unrestricted free agent that most championship-eligible teams are looking to rent. At an annual salary of $5.5 million this season, Sundin is quite affordable to quite a few teams as well. And in the mould of Keith Tkachuk (Aaron) or Peter Forsberg (Wes), Sundin's best contribution to the team (besides all the records he had set this season) would be to waive his no-trade clause for an auction for his services. I would truly like to believe that even an interim GM could do that for some young talent and some good draft picks.

The Opiated Sherpa would even like to send his resume to Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment for the role of General Manager/Janitor, because he would love to clean that team up. He would get on the e-mail and the fax machine and would make it known throughout the league that the Leafs are having a sale. Make an offer... everyone is expendible. Granted, some players are worth more than others and not everyone would go for cheap. Tomas Kaberle (John P.), who is actually the most valuable commodity to the team, would be pretty tough to pry out of the Sherpa's roster, but I'm sure the idea of his availability would be tempting to many teams.

The goal for the Sherpa over the next couple summers would be to score big at the Draft. He would deal for those top picks, trying to score much like the Pittsburgh Penguins had done over the last few seasons, managing to snag Sidney Crosby (Benson) and Evgeni Malkin (Dale B.). Yes, Leaf Nation would suffer in the standings for a season or two, but they haven't made the playoffs in a few seasons, so that really hasn't changed. The changes would come in the quality of draft picks, which is owed to Leaf Nation. I don't think anyone could criticize the idea of working hard to pick Steven Stamkos (non-pool) this summer and taking a shot at John Tavares (non-pool) in 2009. Those two dynamic young players are blue chip prospects that a team like the Leafs could use to help stabilize their roster.

You can even look at some of the models of a few of the successful clubs in the league today or even some of the potential Cup contenders of the future and say they are building from the net out. Well, the Sherpa is a pretty big fan of the goaltending tandem in Toronto. Vesa Toskala (Benson) and Andrew Raycroft (Jeff) are not that bad. Sure they can let some softies in, but even Martin Brodeur (Don) and Roberto Luongo (John B.) is guilty of that. Since they're locked in for a few years at this point in time, the Sherpa would gamble with prospects like Justin Pogge (non-pool), only to fill the young goaltender void in the future drafts.

If it isn't the Sherpa that gets the job in Toronto, then let it be a new-age hockey mind that realizes that they Leafs need to be shaken up for any future success. The upper management owes it to the people who pay their salaries and support their team no matter how many wrong turns the bandwagon has taken in the past few years.

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