Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Leafs

As a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I don't know what Tuesday (trade deadline day) will bring. Well, wait, I know one thing...it'll bring me laughing and pointing at Sens fans after the Leafs spanked Ottawa 5-0 last night. That's one bright spot in this sorry season for Toronto --- at least the Sens, after a red-hot start, have been mediocre for about two months and thanks to their loose cannon goalie are facing yet another second-round playoff elimination. It never gets old.

On the bright side, Mats Sundin is staying. Fans who knock Sundin for being selfish by not waiving his no-trade clause just amaze me. You can't get any more from a player than what Sundin has given Toronto fans over the last 14 years. Dealing him under the logic that it will make the Maple Leafs a better team is a 50-50 proposition at best. Unload anyone, but don't unload the guy who has played his heart out for almost a decade and a half.* Ditch McCabe, Tucker, Kubina, Blake, Raycroft, etc. I'm sure there's some NHL club out there who's dumb enough to take one of these guys under the pretense that they need 'grit' or 'experience' or whatever excuses GMs use when they acquire a mediocre player because they're too afraid to be knocked for standing pat at the trade deadline.

* = full disclosure: I love Sundin, but the Leafs' 2002-03 final four run that was largely accomplished with him out with a wrist injury (and basically ended as soon as he returned in Game 2 against Carolina) was the greatest hint that maybe Mats is really more of a Ewing Theory type of star player. Blasphemy, I know, but it can't be ignored.

Some fans think Sundin could just accept a deal and then re-sign with the Leafs in the offseason (note: this fact is probably what's keeping a lot of teams from offering anything substantial for him in a deal, which these same fans don't seem to realize). The hell with that --- it's the aforementioned five overpaid slugs who should do the Leafs a favour and leave town. Actually, here's how they could do it. One or two them get shipped to Ottawa, with the Leafs taking back Redden and, oh, say, a bag of pucks in return. Toronto even offers to pay a part of the salaries, if that works under the cap. Ottawa fans rejoice at getting one over on the hated Leafs. Then, in the playoffs, the traded players dog it. I mean, they turn into Phil Housley circa 2003 or Larry Murphy circa 1997. They dog it like they've never dogged it before. Imagine how Kubina plays now, and then try to imagine him if he didn't actually try. It would be ghastly. The Sens are so disgusted that they release the players outright, and then Toronto can re-sign them in the summer (at greatly reduced prices) as conquering heroes. This would take the Leafs-Senators rivalry to new heights. Imagine if, say, new Senator Tucker feigned injury in a key playoff game, but as he left the ice, ripped out a blue towel and started to wave it as he went into the tunnel. Then he punches Spezza in the head on the bench and runs out of the arena, where Carlton the Bear waits with the engine running for a quick getaway. Magic. This is exactly what the NHL needs; to turn into mid-90's WCW wrestling.

As poorly as the Leafs have played this season and in spite of the fact that they don't deserve it whatsoever, they're only about a four-game winning streak away from being right back in the playoff hunt. Toronto has quietly gone 7-4 this month, and of those losses, only the 8-0 shellacking from the Panthers (probably, all things considered, one of the 10 most embarrassing losses in franchise history) and the 5-1 loss to Buffalo were actual cases of the team being outplayed. Would it be possible that this team can somehow gain confidence from not being broken up at the deadline and squeak in as an eight seed? Could it be possible that this season actually was just all Wozniewski's fault? Is the Eastern Conference THAT mediocre? Obviously, what this team needs is not a stopgap playoff appearance to give the impression of success but rather to be blown up almost entirely...and yet...a first-round Toronto/Ottawa or Toronto/Montreal series would be pretty awesome. Hell, against those two, the Leafs might even get into the second round. And really, so many things have gone wrong for the Leafs this year --- editor's note: or the last 40 years --- that aren't they due to have their cake and eat it too? Like, sneak into the playoffs and beat a fierce rival in the first round, THEN hire a brilliant new general manager that totally blows up the team, unloads the bad contracts, has a great draft and sets the team on a new path to greatness?

Cliff Fletcher probably has at least one rabbit in his hat for tomorrow, given his track record, though I have to laugh at the fact that Fletcher (for all of the saviour talk that came out of the TO media about him) isn't actually obligated to do anything. He's only contracted as the GM until the summer. Tomorrow's deadline could pass with no moves, and Cliff could shrug his shoulders and then throw a bag with a dollar sign on it into the back of his golf cart as he drives down the first fairway at Glen Abbey. And then possibly wave a Sens flag --- hey wait! Nooo! Cliff Fletcher has joined the NWO!

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