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I hate you, Toronto, ON • Canada • 27 Years Old • Male

Grading Cliff Fletcher

Posted 9:38 PM ET | Comments 13
Rebuild.

That was the game plan going in to the off-season after another abysmal season from our boys in Blue and White.

Given this arduous task was veteran GM Cliff Fletcher. I mean, it's not every day that MLSE realize their failure and place this kind of responsibility on their GM (or... is it?).

Fletcher got to work right away, trading a 3rd round selection in the 2008 draft for Jamal Mayers. While this received mixed reception, the presence of Mayers to the Leafs' now young line-up is going to add some leadership to a team sorely lacking it.

Next on the list was buying out the contracts of veteran-Leaf Darcy Tucker, and the incumbent Andrew Raycroft -- Kyle Wellwood was also left to pursue his career elsewhere. The loss of Raycroft is an obvious plus to the Leafs, but the subtraction of Tucker is a puzzling one. He's proven he can score goals, be a threat on the PP, drop the gloves, and bring some leadership. It was a bumpy ride last season, and Tucker is one the decline, but he can still contribute in the NHL. Holding on to a player of his caliber seems more logical then simply wasting 3-million dollars on nothing.

Before I bring up the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, let's view how many draft picks Fletcher has brought in and out this off-season:

Picks Acquired

2008 - 2nd (PIT for Gill)
2008 - 3rd (FLA for Kilger)
2008 - 5th (FLA for Belak)
2008 - 5th (PIT for Gill)

Picks Traded

2008 - 3rd (TOR) to NYI for Schenn
2008 - 3rd (FLA) to STL for Mayers
2008 - 5th (TOR) to MTL for Grabovski
2009 - 2nd (TOR) to NYI for Schenn
2009 - 5th (PIT) to NYR for Hollweg
2010 - 2nd (TOR) to MTL for Grabovski
2010 - 4th (TOR) to FLA for Mike Van Ryn

Draft Picks Remaining

2009 NHL Draft

1st (TOR)
2nd NO PICK: (NYI for Schenn)
3rd (TOR)
4th NO PICK: (SJ for Toskala, JFJ)
5th (TOR)
6th (TOR)
7th (TOR)

2010 NHL Draft

1st (TOR)
2nd NO PICK: (MTL for Grabovski)
3rd (TOR)
4th NO PICK: (FLA for Van Ryn)
5th (TOR)
6th (TOR)
7th (TOR)

Looking at that, the draft doesn't seem to be the chosen route to build upon our weak prospect pool. With that said, however, Fletcher did manage to attain Luke Schenn (The Human Eraser) and that alone impacts our prospect cupboard to quite a degree (quite sadly I might add). Fletcher's feelings on building through the draft have long been long summarized by his infamous quote, ''Draft shmaft''. With that in mind, one could hope John Tavares is a Leaf at next years draft to atleast make up for the two quality picks we'll be lacking.

Going into the UFA frenzy period, the Leafs, for once, didn't throw ridiculous amounts of money at players for the purpose of reaching their mediocre 8th place goal... but they were given the Finger, quite stiffly I might add. Yes, Jeff Finger and his new 3.5-million dollar contract stole the show -- completely putting Niklas Hagman and co. in the shadows and perhaps for the better. While Finger's presence should help the Leafs' defensive woes, Fletcher should have known better than to give a player with 94 games of NHL experience, at 28, a four year 14-million dollar contract. On top of that, Fletcher has created quite the log jam on the back-end, hurting the chances of the Leafs' young defensemen at cracking the line-up. To further the problem, he then signed defenseman Jonas Frogren, from the SEL (Swedish Elite League), to play in one of top 6 positions. And when the Leafs were finally granted permission to trade the struggling veteran and longtime-Leaf Bryan McCabe, they brought in Mike Van Ryn, an offensive defenseman who is essentially a lesser-version of McCabe but comes with a smaller price tag. Excuse me, but is cap space really all that important for a team that is rebuilding anyway? If you ask me, this will be another transaction that Fletcher will be regretting when McCabe is back in form.

On a more positive note, the best move by Fletcher may be the acquisition of head coach Ron Wilson. Wilson is under the belief that this team will only turn it around when a stronger defensive game is in place. ''Do you care if you win 2-1 or lose 6-5? How do you protect a smaller defense? You forecheck like mad men.'' Explained Wilson, ''Look at Detroit. It's no fun to play against them when you never have the puck.'' Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Wilson though is that he understands good things take time, ''I think the last few years it's been 'We need to make the playoffs, we need to do this, we need to do that. And you start start cutting corners to satisfy all these other people's needs and you end up not doing the right thing.'' The Leafs will be a lot more interesting -- and promising -- with him behind the bench.

All in all, this was a rather perplexing rebuilding plan from Fletcher. We've lost more draft picks then gained, and we're forced to put our hopes in cloudy prospects such as Mikhail Grabovski. While parting ways with Sundin was crucial, the Leafs can acquire many assets if they were to trade their remaining veterans - Vesa Toskala's name comes to mind.

Fletcher's Grade: C (Ironically, that forms a sad face if you look sideways)
Filed Under:   Fletcher   Leafs   UFA   hockey  
September 11, 2008 1:35 AM ET | Delete
Good read Ron I really enjoyed that.
September 11, 2008 7:28 AM ET | Delete
I question some of Flectchers moves and like others but on paper it menas nothing. I say way till this Team has played 20 games or so and then we will be qble to judge his moves..
September 11, 2008 11:13 AM ET | Delete
I think you are missing the point of getting rid of the likes of Tucker and McCabe. They can produce yes, they can be leaders yes, but they were not helping the leafs do anything at all. Also by getting rid of them their spots will be open to both younger players, and vet players that CAN be traded at the deadline which Fletcher can use to get those picks back. Van Ryn if still on the team by the deadline will be getting traded deadline day for at least a 2nd round pick, Mayers will fetch similar picks. Holloweg has a chance to go also. Fletcher was not able to do this last year at the deadline, so what he has done is brought in some young kids to grow, and some vets that he can trade for more picks.
September 11, 2008 12:15 PM ET | Delete
I'd give Cliff an B for change for change's sake, a B for drafting in 2008, a D- on returns for assests and an F for building a long-term successful franchise. I don't think the two-year rebuild plan they've got going is anything but a quick fix. We might get back into the playoffs but unless management stops trading picks, this team will always be in trouble.
September 11, 2008 12:46 PM ET | Delete
I have to say, I'm a fan of what he's done. I don't get a lot of people questioning the McCabe trade. Fletcher managed to move a player that takes bad penalties at horrible times with a NMC in his contract for a player that, while he may be less of a player (apparentely), can be traded to any team if he doesn't work out. I think the main focus of Fletcher has been to change the mentality and make up of the team. The players no longer have control of the team as it was last year. As for the draft picks, I would rather keep picks but, at least he's not trading 1st rounders! We know also have enough somewhat tradable character players that I'm sure we will be re-cooping some of the 2nd rounders that we traded. I don't think the Leafs are a playoff team but, I think we're heading in the right direction.
September 11, 2008 12:48 PM ET | Delete
Most important thing to keep in mind when grading Fletcher was the 5 NTC he had to face on signing his deal. Only 2 remain, the 2008 draft choices look promising and not one of Poggie, Stralman, Tlusty, Kulemin or a first round pick has been traded. He will have ample opportunity to re-coupe the 2 2nds and 4ths at this years trade deadline now that he has contracts he can move. I say B Cliff.
September 11, 2008 12:56 PM ET | Delete
Greatlakes made a good (dare I say great) point. He has created future flexibility at most positions while taking a wait and see aproach to the team overall. Having all these D-men will create competition for the spots. The only two guarantees are Kubina and Kaberle (and I guess Finger, given what they're paying him...) but the rest is up in the air. Same goes for the forwards. I've been watching the Sharks for years out here in California, and Ron has never given anyone a free pass on that team. He'll expect more than the team has been asked to do before. I'm excited to see them, if they do put in an agressive forechecking system, which would play to their advantages with speed through out the forwards, and a healthy does of stay at home and experienced d. Long story short, Fletch has given himself the wiggle room to make things happen at the dealine this year, and that's what he didn't have last year.
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