The reaction to the moves made by the Maple Leafs on July 1st has been understandably mixed. There has been more than enough posted regarding the virtues of the new acquisitions (Jeff Finger in particular) so I'll be focussing more on what seems to me to be the overall philosophy/strategy of the club.
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The buyouts of Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft indicate that Fletcher recognizes that his predecessor made the frequent mistake of overpaying for talent. Currently the club is laden with expensive contracts for underachievers, and also the cap hits from buying out their similarly overpriced former teammates. It stands to reason that Fletcher will be very careful to avoid making similar mistakes by doing his homework on the recent signings and on the European defenseman and the 'homerun' he is still in the hunt for.
The GM has paid much lipservice to the concept of building the team via youth and draft picks and thus far the majority of his moves (Jamal Mayers excepted) seem to indicate a commitment to this plan. There are plenty of positions available for the clubs forward prospects to develop and if Fletcher manages to trade Kubina and McCabe (one step short of walking on water) the blueline will have an average age of 25.6. However, at the moment it is too early to definitively assess Fletchers plans for the club. Mats Sundin remains unsigned, Eklund has reported rumours linking Marian Gaborik to the club (swinging for the fences?), and there is still a significant amount of room to manoevre under the cap - particularly if McCabe waives his NMC.
Signing Sundin would please some fans but would signify a departure from the rebuilding plan before it even begins. Gaborik, while young and undeniably talented, has been dogged by injury throughout his career. Even if one was able to put health concerns aside Gaborik would command a premium package of prospects and draft picks. A good acquisition for the Penguins, Canadiens, or another team with serious aspirations in June '09 perhaps, but not for a team in the first year of a rebuilding program.
The bottom line is this - the Leafs have essentially wasted the past three years trading picks and prospects, signing UFA's on the wrong side of 30 without so much as being swept out in the first round of the playoffs. With Cliff Fletcher no longer working with the prefix 'interim' in front of his GM title the future of the club is in his hands. While it is interesting to watch the knee-jerk reactions of the media to every single move made by Fletcher, only the man's actions over the next three months will truly reveal whether he is serious about rebuilding properly.
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