After a long and suspenseful NHL Trade Deadline, Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher felt the ripple effects from former GM, JFJ. With Bryan McCabe, Mats Sundin, Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker and Pavel Kubina all refusing to waive their respective no-trade clause agreement, "Silver Fox" had to chip away the outer core.
Hal Gill, Chad Kilger and Wade Belak are no longer Toronto Maple Leafs’. In exchange, the Leafs ended up acquiring a 2nd, 3rd, and two 5th round picks at the end of the day. Hardly enough to bolster up a future for an abysmal Leafs club, but it’s a start. Cliff has sent a message this afternoon, and its music to my ears. "One thing I can assure you is that the face of the Maple Leaf hockey team come opening game in October will be different than it is right now. We have to change this team to move forward" said a frustrated Fletcher. As disappointing as this day was for him, this quote should bring chills to your spine, especially the last sentence.
Where Fletcher separates from the familiar Leafs attitude is realism. He doesn’t care that they are 6 points out and he has now made it clear he wants a good draft choice. All hope is gone for this club and Fletcher knows what needs to be done. Mark my words, he will lay a much better foundation for the next GM of this hockey team and Leafs fans everywhere will be able to wave the Leafs logo with some pride.
While you may think the subtractions to the team will not end the Leafs playoffs hopes...think again. What Cliff has done is eliminate the Leafs best defensive defenseman and most reliable defensive forward. It's an area where this club has faltered even with those two. Expect to see a frustrated Vesa Toskala is all I have to say.
With that said, expect to see another defenseman on his way out in the summer. Kubina will no longer hold a NTC agreement in his contract if the Leafs miss the playoffs this season, an outcome which will surely happen. With Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle all tied up, moving a pricey Kubina is going to be a move Fletcher can really benefit from. Not only will he clear up 5-million dollars in cap space, but he will clear a spot on the back-end for a young d-man, whether it is Staffan Kronwall or Phil Oreskovic.
What you also have to keep in mind is that the Leafs will more than likely host a team with no Mats Sundin next season. Add in a young and inexperienced defense core and this team will struggle tremendously to make the playoffs, or better yet, get out of the Eastern Conference basement.
Players like Tucker, McCabe and Kaberle may refuse to leave the club, but with some well strategical tweaking it is very likely the Leafs can turn this thing around. In 3 or 5 years, preferably 5, things may be glowing with optimism and playoff-like atmosphere.