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