Monday, September 1, 2008

Each day is more painful than the one before it

With a headline like that you'd probably think I was going through a tough time personally, having suffered the loss of a close friend or contracted some strange virus.

But thankfully it's not like that. Simply put: I am a Leafs fan.

I love hockey, love the NHL, and like many others I follow the pro game very closely. But the Maple Leafs are my team. And it just hurts so bad.

Since the lockout year in 2004-05, the Leafs have been trending down and it doesn't appear they've bottomed out yet. Two near-misses from playoff action were followed by a 23rd place performance last year, and a bottom five (perhaps three even?) seems inevitable for this coming season.

When the Leafs fired John Ferguson Jr. as GM I accepted the second coming of Cliff Fletcher only because I assumed Brian Burke (or Scotty Bowman or maybe even Ken Holland) would be taking over in the summer and Fletcher would just be keeping the GM's seat warm in the meantime. Okay, maybe I didn't assume it would be any of those names mentioned above. 'Hoped' is probably closer to the truth, maybe even 'wished'. Anyway, the point is that I believed someone, anyone, would be hired to right the ship.

Eight months later I feel like Adam Sandler in 'Reign Over Me', my headphones glued to my ears protecting me from the outside world, quickly changing the subject should I find myself in a situation where someone mentions the Leafs.

After watching Fletcher mishandle the entire Mats Sundin drama (first at the trade deadline, then again this summer), trade valuable draft picks for 3rd and 4th liners (Grabovski, Mayers), buy out Darcy Tucker for a net savings of almost nil, throw borderline insane free agent dollars at marginal talent (Finger, Hagman) and tie up valuable future cap space, it's clear the Silver Fox is not merely holding down the fort. He's making plans. He's putting his stamp on the team instead of clearing the deck for the next guy. In short: Cliff Fletcher is more Rob Babcock than Wayne Embry.

By all accounts, Bryan McCabe will be traded on Tuesday. The Leafs will finally rid themselves of a defenceman they openly announced they no longer wanted. Apparently the deal, McCabe to Florida for Mike Van Ryn, was agreed to a few weeks ago but has been held up by a roster bonus due to McCabe on September 1st. The bonus was $2M and payable by the team that held his rights on that day which of course is why the trade won't officially happen until Sept.2nd. That means in the final three years of his contract Florida will pay McCabe a very reasonable $12.45M (only $4.15M a year). Including the Sept.1st bonus, Toronto will have paid McCabe $16.3 million for two years.

Unless the idea is to further sabotage the team's chances, why make this trade? Van Ryn is a fourth or fifth defenceman who can't stay healthy. His $3.35M salary for each of the next two seasons is only slightly cheaper than what McCabe will earn and Van Ryn isn't half the player.

On the other hand, if the idea is indeed to sabotage, to get worse at whatever cost, well, surely there could have been easier (and more beneficial) ways to do it. Oh I don't know, maybe you hold on to the draft picks you just traded for? Or go with a much younger and greener team to ensure another lottery position?

Certainly giving away a power play specialist defenceman who can play 25 minutes a night and cutting a consistent 20 goal scorer who wears his heart on his sleeve are not the right moves. Why give away assets at the absolute bottom of their value? Especially when you have to turn around and replace them?

Why sign mediocre free agents to long-term deals in the middle of a rebuilding plan? Why continue to bring back former stars, both on and off the ice, who are well past their glory days? When will management get proactive and decide to follow the lead of the Red Sox and Yankees and start outspending teams in areas that aren't capped like scouting and player development?

Such is life as a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many, many questions. Very few logical answers.

It's been 41 long years since the Stanley Cup was paraded down Yonge St. by a victorious Leaf squad. After a fair amount of playoff success and a couple of close calls in the final years leading up to the lockout produced reason to believe...times have again grown grim.

1 comment:

  1. I would have to agree. The Leafs follow the perfect blueprint for a team going nowhere. Stuck between rebuilding (why not get a stack of draft picks for these if you're going to get rid of these older guys??) and wasting enough of your resources to guarantee a mediocre (at best) team for the next few years (an ongoing process, it seems, as the signing of mediocre free agents for too much money continues). Go Sens! or Flames! or Habs! There is no silver lining on the horizon....