Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hey Cliff Fletcher: Read This Carefully

Dear Mr. Fletcher,

The most important thing to understand Cliff, is that you absolutely can turn this around. Don't listen to everyone out there saying the situation is impossible, the ownership is a mess or that the team is too old and slow. It all starts with you! You are going to be the Leafs Wayne Embry. It's not a big job, or a long job, just make some moves and set the table for the Next Guy. The Savior. Whomever He ends up being.

The point is Cliff, He isn't you. So just follow this advice and I guarantee no one will notice you sleeping in the office, or watching wheel of fortune in your skybox at home games.

Heading into trade deadline time, the three Leafs with the most value are Sundin, Kaberle and Antropov. Obviously, the guys most Leafs fans want to see traded are any or all of Kubina, Blake and Tucker. Unfortunately for us, Isiah Thomas doesn't run a hockey team. Those guys are all staying.

If somebody really wants to overpay for Kaberle, like two first rounders and a prime prospect or two, you have to consider it because this team really needs to clear cap space, but you can't be aggressively shopping Tomas. He's a top two defenceman that is underpaid and locked into that underpaid contract for three more years, so moving him doesn't make a lot of sense. For the same reason, you now can't trade McCabe unless you get overwhelmed. And I mean REALLY overwhelmed, not 'Brian Burke just called and promised me all kinds of future considerations' overwhelmed. McCabe's been ridiculously overpaid the last two years at $7.15M a season, but he makes an average of only 4.5 a year for the next three. That's pretty good value for a 25 minute a night, consistently top 10 scoring D. (Yes, McCabe has flaws in his game, most notably that he makes enormous mistakes at critical times, but after living through the worst part of the contract, why not see if the end pays off?)

However, moving both the other two guys does make a lot of sense. With Mats, it's almost a foregone conclusion that he's gone. I like the Anaheim deal more for Edmonton's #1 than for Bobby Ryan, but whatever trade ends up happening, you're going to stockpile some assets. Hey Silver Fox, did you hear me? I'll repeat: Stockpile assets. Bobby Mac said Toronto could get up to 6 picks or prospects, and if bums like Tkachuk can fetch big hauls, the Mats trade should be monstrous.

The Antropov situation terrifies me, and it should do the same to you Cliff. Nicky (as Bill Watters calls him) has another year left on his contract at a very reasonable $2.15 million and then becomes unrestricted after next season. Even though he is absolutely ICE COLD right now, the numbers he's already put up are sure to make him fairly attractive. When you factor in that he's not just a 'rent-a-player', that his new team will get to 'enjoy' him for all of next year as well, this might be the perfect storm for trading AN-Drop-off. Wondering where the terrifying part comes in? Just as the Leafs could be in real position to clear some cap space and create some breathing room (Bell, Gill, and Raycroft will all come off the books after next season, clearing almost $7M), would the Next Guy be able to resist giving Borat (providing he continues to put up good-to-solid numbers) some goofy Mike Ribeiro-type deal? I would much prefer moving him now, while he has a lot of value, and then let some other team get seduced by his length and talent. You'll thank me for this one later, I promise.

Suddenly you've added 6-9 prospects or picks in dealing Mats and Antropov plus you hopefully have a top five pick of your own in the 2008 draft, depending on how bad the Leafs finish. At that point, for the first time in, ahhhh, forever? the cupboard would be reasonably well-stocked in Leafland. Actually, it would be more than well stocked. It would be the foundation needed for the Next Guy to come in and take the Leafs to the promised land.

I understand the thought of trading everyone, all the veteran talent, completely blowing everything up. But don't let it be anymore than a thought Cliffy. That is what 31 other GM's want you to do. They want to take your assets at a discount. They want you to tear the whole thing down, and maybe never be able to build it back up again. As hard as it is for most of the media to see, there are some pieces in place here that can be built upon. And if we really want Mats to do the old welcome back trick this summer (which we do, don't we? please tell me we do), then we're going to need to have an NHL calibre roster to entice him.

So, to wrap it up, don't be a hero. Realize you are not the hero. No matter what happens, the Next Guy is taking over in the summer.


The Canadian Sports Junkie

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The BLUE-print: My 7 Step Guide to the Next TML Dynasty!

1. Fire JFJ - This is not to say he's been a terrible GM, because he hasn't. Fergie made some bad trades, but they weren't Mike MIilbury bad. He overpaid McCabe, Kubina, and Jason Blake, but did get Kaberle and Antropov signed cheap. The thing is, this will be three years with no playoffs and he has simply run out of credibility with the fans and media. The current situation (not winning Stanley Cups for 40 years and counting) is never going to change with him in charge. This board of approval nonsense and constant meddling continues to hold the Leafs down in the standings. The overall structure of the organization is counter-productive to success and needs to be replaced. That begins with firing Fergie, preferrably before he re-signs Bryan McCabe to a three-year extension.

2. Hand The Keys To Mr.Big Shot
(No, not Robert Horry) - The next GM of the Leafs absolutely has to be a HUGE name. My first choice would be to hire Brian Burke away from Anaheim, and my second would be to lure Brent Sutter out of Jersey, but neither is
likely to happen. But that's the type of name and hockey person Toronto has to get. One of the best, a top tier guy with a pedigree who can come in and do things HIS WAY without anyone second-guessing him. The Buds were kinda on the right track with Scotty Bowman, and even if they don't get him, hopefully he sets the terms that everyone will end up committing too. Total autonomy over hockey decisions, or as it's known around town...the Bryan Colangelo deal. That's the only way things will ever change in this organization.

(Sigh) Trade Mats - It's fairly obvious that Mats has to go. The haul he'd net in return (3-4 prospects or picks) is simply too much to pass up on for a team with no cap-space going forward and no legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. I would tell Mats that the team had every intention of bringing him back as a UFA in the summer if he was willing, to hopefully a younger, quicker and better team than he was leaving.

3.5 Mats Retires as a Leaf
- Mats is our Derek Jeter. Ummmm, Mats is our Jim Kelly. Ok, neither of those is right but you get the point. Mats owns the Leaf record book and has long been the face of the franchise. A few days before July 1st you pull the Paul Holmgren and trade a 3rd or 4th rounder to which ever team ends up with Mats in exchange for his rights before he hits the open market. Give Mats a 2 year/$9M contract (same as Alffy makes) with another no-trade.

4. Say Goodbye to Antropov
- It makes sense for the Leafs to listen to offers for any of their players not named Steen, Wellwood, Tlusty, Colaiacovo, Stralman or Pogge. The phones won't be ringing for guys like Tucker or Blake, so the guy I would try to move would be Antropov. He has another year on his contract before he becomes unrestricted, and he's playing well enough that if he keeps it going next year he could work his way into a Mike Ribeiro type of deal. If he's still with the Leafs, that situation terrifies me. Better to move him now when he has a lot of value. At only $2M next year, almost every team in the league could afford him.

5. Beef Up Scouting and Coaching
- The salary cap may have leveled the playing field on the ice, but off of it the league's most profitable franchise needs to upgrade and max-out their entire scouting and coaching departments. There is no reason Toronto shouldn't be out-spending every team significantly in these areas. It's what the Yankees and Red Sox are doing under similar circumstances.

6. NO SUITS ALLOWED - This part is embarrassing. Canada's largest city and an original six franchise with home crowds that are under-whelming at best and far too tardy. I know this rule would never work because the entire lower bowl at the ACC is a corporate schmooze-fest, but can't we fine them or something if they don't get to their seats by the 5 minute mark? Something needs to be done. You don't think staring at 4000 empty ice-level seats at the beginning of every period is demoralizing for a home team?

7. Clear Cap-Space, Re-Stock the System, and Wait for the Cavalry to Arrive
- If we could somehow look into the future, to the year 2010 and beyond and see a very solid Toronto roster stocked with youth, talent and depth, with ample cap-space, I have to believe players would be lining up to sign here. I could see some players who were born in Ontario and grew up Leaf fans maybe agreeing to slight home-town discounts on their contracts. Guys around the league know that winning a Cup in Toronto would be very similar to what the players who were on the Boston Red Sox in 2004 went through, it could be a career-maker. I think that opportunity, if the proper foundation is in place, would be very enticing to all types of free-agents.