I woke up this morning feeling very frustrated.
Frustrated with knowing that with every win the Leafs put together in this time before the trading deadline, the makeover of the Leafs becomes a more difficult task for Fletcher. Why? Because Fletcher doesn't have the ultimate say on where this team can go over the next 3-4 seasons. Let me correct myself. He does have control to a point, but in the areas where he can make the biggest impact, he has no control. In reality, the biggest asset that he can move unquestioned is Nik Antropov. Outside of that, he has to deal with Sundin, Tucker, McCabe and Kaberle, all of whom have no trade clauses (NTC). Each of these players can offer significant return that would completely remake this team overnight. However, with each win, the abovementioned players start believing more and more in the cause; that they can make the playoffs. Ultimately, that will mean they will refuse to waive the NTC. I, for one, will be truly amazed if Fletcher can pull off anything of significance over the next week simply because the control is out of his hands.
What a feeling that must be. To know that you are in charge of making changes to remake the team. Changes that will bring you to your goal of not just making the playoffs but being able to compete with the big boys. But, also knowing that while you need to do this, that you have no ultimate control over your ability to deliver. Now THAT's a reason for someone to want to become the GM of Toronto! All the publicity over the past couple of years has been about how difficult the job in Toronto is because of the makeup of the board of MLSEL. I can't speak to whatever happens in the boardroom but from where I see it, the biggest problem in Leafland these days is having to deal with the number of NTC's. Mind you, that's becoming a bigger problem in the NHL these days. With all the publicity about the struggle to remake the team in Toronto, one would think that now is not a great time to be on the search for the captain of the ship (GM). Who in their right mind would want to take over the company that is the Leafs when you know that you have four other captains of the ship sitting in the corner that hold veto over your authority.
So, what keeps you awake at night? Richard, Gord?
It's amazing what comes to mind first thing in the morning as you're lying in bed. My thoughts went back to a time when I was 10 or 11 and having a discussion with my father surrounding inflation. I specifically remember me saying to him that labour strikes ultimately drive inflation - well, not in those words - remember, I was only 10 or 11. But, in essence that's what I was saying. I recall making comments referring to it being impossible (or near impossible) to take a step back once you've raised the bar. How true was that? So, what does that have to do with the NHL? Lots! Now that we're in the era of the NTC, it will be near impossible to retract from that. Once the current collective bargaining agreement runs out, do you honestly believe that if ownership wants to even limit the use of this clause, that the players union will agree to it? Not a chance. Don't even think about introducing a clause to eliminate the NTC.
So then I continued my thinking. Once again, it's amazing what comes to mind that time of morning. I began thinking about Sal Tessio in The Godfather. Specifically, I recall Sal telling Tom Hagen at the end of the movie that his betrayal to the Corleone family wasn't personal but simply business. Simply business! And, that's the approach that needs to be taken with the Leafs. When negotiating with a player, it needs to be simply business. Trading a player? Simply business. The example of Michael Ryder in Montreal really fits into this type of scenario. It's widely known that Ryder does not fit into the Habs plans any longer and he should/will be moved. This is not to say that Ryder will not have a productive career elsewhere in the league for many years to come, but he just doesn't fit with Montreal any longer. That's not personal. That's business! That's the intelligent approach. I would view Tucker in the same light. In fact, they should have traded him at last years deadline. He was worth a lot more a year ago. Now if a team were to pick him up, not only would they have to give up assets to get him, but now they also have to deal with the NTC. It's one big circle.
CEO's of major corporations deal with this all the time. They lay out a 3-5 year plan as to where they want their company to go. They sell off assets if it doesn't fit into the business plan. They acquire assets that do fit. That's real. Some will say that players should be treated with respect. Absolutely! But shouldn't players treat the clubs with respect as well. After all, these clubs are making these guys millionaires. I find it very frustrating that NTC's are now allowing players to put themselves over the needs of the club. It's quite obvious that a makeover is needed in Toronto, but the use of the NTC's is limiting the possibilities to do it.
Over the past couple of days, the guys here at work have been bantering around as to who really has the power in negotiations; the player or the team. I would agree that in most cases, the player does have the advantage. Especially, if they want the NTC and the team does not want to give it. The player can ultimately go where they are offered the NTC. That's human. But, in Toronto, as in some other markets, the arena is a little different. Even with the lack of success over the past 40 years, there are still boat loads of kids who grew up in Southern Ontario with the dream of one day donning the Blue and White. That is huge when it comes to negotiations. Some might call it the hometown discount. I would suggest that if push came to shove, you could get these guys signed without the NTC.
As GM, you could surely say, "Sure, you can play with another team that offers you a NTC, but we (the Leafs) will only have 20 guys playing in Blue and White this season. You can be one of them or you can go elsewhere and get your NTC. What will it be? You can make the same money here and be part of a team that has the largest following in Canada. Your choice".
As well, maybe it's time for the Leafs to go down a different road. Don't go after the players who've always wanted to be a Leaf, go for players who have higher aspirations. Isn't it a possibility that if you sign a guy who has wanted to be a Leaf since childhood, that you run the risk of them becoming less motivated now that they've achived their goal? Maybe not in all cases, but in some. The question is how do you spot them?
Maybe the Leafs need to be run with the attitude of a Vito Corleone. Give them an offer they can't refuse and treat business like business - nothing personal.