Saturday, October 15, 2011

Appreciating The Silver Fox

cliff fletcher leafs brian burke
Honestly, I have been really proud of this MSpaint-job I did sometime last year and I've had no idea when I could actually write a Cliff Fletcher post to use it on. To solve that problem I thought it was about time we start appreciating the wonder that was Cliff Fletcher's second time around in Toronto. He did sign Jeff Finger, which is always good for a few laughs, but that's no reason to consider his Toronto redux anything other than a complete success.

Cliff Fletcher's second go-around in Toronto became necessary after pretty much everyone in Leafs Nation, which amazingly included upper management, repeatedly pushed the panic button and basically demanded JFJ be thrown out immediately.

It was finally clear to everyone that the Leafs desperately needed to rebuild and JFJ was a terrible GM. With a bunch of potential trade candidates, it just didn't make any sense to have JFJ running the team when the Leafs would certainly fire him at season's end anyways (in fact, it never made sense having JFJ run the team).

Fletcher, called to duty while on some beach, enjoying his retirement, came to rescue the floundering Maple Leafs, rendered impotent by the massive contractual blunders handed out by JFJ.

Head were going to roll. Fletcher was going to kick ass and send everyone packing. No trade clause? More like no big deal.

Uh, except those no trade clauses were initially very cumbersome, blocking any potential Mats Sundin deal and nixing a Tomas Kaberle trade that would have famously (among Leafs Nation depressives) brought Jeff Carter and a first round pick to Toronto.

But the summer was different, Fletch shook off the rust from his retirement and wasted no time in letting Mats Sundin decide his future elsewhere, buying out Darcy Tucker, forgetting Pavel Kubina existed, convincing Bryan McCabe to take his talents to South Beach, and bitterly pointing out to Tomas Kaberle that all his friends were gone. See what happens when you're loyal to the Leafs? We'll turn on you!

But that was just the start.

Two of Fletcher's biggest moves have resulted in two of the best players on the Leafs' current roster.

Fletcher traded up in the 2008 draft, grabbing Luke Schenn with the fifth overall pick. In the Leafs' seventh spot, the Predators (who were drafting there because of a trade with the Islanders) selected Colin Wilson. The player picked immediately after Schenn? The recently demoted Nikita Filatov. I'd say this trade has already worked out splendidly for the Leafs.

Schenn has already become a cornerstone of the Leafs' defence and is the exact type of defenceman the Leafs have desperately needed since Dmitri Yushkevich was a hard-hitting, shot blocking machine back in the late-90s.

For his next act, Fletcher scored Mikhail Grabovski, who was giving the Montreal Canadiens headaches, for Greg Pateryn and, funny enough, a 2010 second round pick that would eventually come back to the Leafs after a series of moves, only to move to Boston as a part of the package that brought Phil Kessel to Toronto.

Grabovski broke out last season, solidifying himself as the Leafs' number one centre, after posting career highs in goals and points, while playing solid two-way hockey and developing excellent chemistry with linemates Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur.

Score another one for the Silver Fox.

But Fletcher's boldest move was one that didn't happen, one that would have drastically changed the present day Leafs.

The Ducks, coming off their first Stanley Cup, were in salary cap trouble, largely due to the fact that both Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer deliberated on their playing status for a long period of time, prompting then GM Brian Burke to sign Mathieu Schneider to a two-year deal worth $5.625 million per season. The deal, reeking of desperation, ended up worse when both Niedermayer and Selanne finally decided they would play for the Ducks.

Fletcher tried to take advantage of the situation, offering to kindly take Schneider's contract from the Ducks, along with Bobby Ryan, who had scored 10 points in 23 games for the Ducks at that point, but was up and down between the NHL and AHL due to salary cap constraints, all in exchange for a few unnamed prospects and a lottery protected first-round pick. When he was an adviser for the Leafs he should have told Burke you're allowed to negotiate these things into deals.

The Ducks wisely chose to trade Schneider to the Atlanta Thrashers instead, acquiring Ken Klee, Brad Larsen, and a prospect by the name of Chad Painchaud - or what is known as the proverbial bag of pucks.

Because of the strong rumours that Burke would soon head to Toronto (which proved correct in mere months), Fletcher was dealing with Bob Murray rather than Burke because of the league's careful eye over any potential dealings.

An interesting scenario would surely have played out if the deal was accepted, with the league forced into investigating  why on Earth the Ducks would willingly trade the former #2 overall pick before he had an opportunity to really play in the NHL.

For a second let's just dream of a world where Bobby Ryan is in a Leafs uniform. Sigh. Ok, that's over, moving on.

So ya, Cliff Fletcher had an old man brain fart and signed Jeff Finger to a bizarre and undeserving $3.5 million contract, and he probably gave up on Alex Steen a little too early when he packaged him with Carlo Coliacovo for Lee Stempniak (who I once compared to Snooki), but the positives of his Toronto return far outweigh those two gaffes.

In summary: Flectcher came within a Tomas Kaberle NMC of acquiring Jeff Carter, dumped an atrocious salary in Flordia before it was cool, acquired the Leafs' first line centre, drafted the Leafs' shut down defenceman, and made a strong attempt to poach a soon-to-be elite scoring winger. Not bad for less than a year's work.

The Silver Fox, man. The Silver Fox.

1 comment:

Bo Jackson said...

The top line of Ryan-Carter-Kessel in my dreams makes me swoon

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