With the latest class of youngsters ready to take their seats in Ottawa and wait to be called upon, Leaf Nation is being shaken by rumblings that the blue and white may already be conceding defeat before the zambonies are even gased up. Although it isn't a real big surprise to anyone that the Leafs will likely struggle in the new campaign it IS however disheartening to hear that the team may be dismantled and sold off for scrap. Now before you all start tearing me a new ******* let me say that although it is sad to see an era end it is nice to finally have some light at the end of the tunnel. My only wish would have been that there was some glory in the era that is 10 years late in coming to a close. We were close, in 93 when Gretz put the stick to Dougies face yet was still on the ice to score the winner and eventually lead the Kings over the buds to face the Habs in what would have been a final for the ages. Close yet again when dismantled by the eventual cup champion Hurricanes a few years later. The painful part is we all know close only counts in horse-shoes and hand grenades. So, lets start anew shall we. That is the one great thing about our sport, the ability to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Lets take a look at what could and may happen...
Firstly I guess the biggest swirl of speculation is if Captain Mats will be back in blue and white. As the days go by and July 1st creeps closer it looks more and more like the big swede will be pulling on a new sweater sometime before the summer sun leaves us. 8-9 million is what is being quoted as a returning price and we all know too well that the Leafs can not afford the 5.5 they are paying him now let alone giving him the much deserved raise he is likely to get elsewhere. Besides, if Sundin is entering his last lucrative deal why would he want to spend it on a rebuild? Why would he want to toil away scoring his 70-80 points for a club that is already starting to realize they will be on the outside looking in for the fourth straight year. Perhaps he really does want to retire a Maple Leaf and however admirable that may be to see the Captain go down with the ship wouldn't any REAL Leaf fan love to see Sundin raising the cup come next June even if in a differnt uniform? maybe, maybe not... It would be great to have Sundin around to guide the youth that is likely to be patrolling the ACC this coming year but how can you ask a guy to lead a crop of players into the new era when time would suggest he will not be there to reap the benefits of success as his career may come to a close before the buds ever make it to a final again. If he could cheat father time long enough he MAY be able to last for that one final cup run 4-5 years from now and retire a champion as others such as Gary Roberts tried to do. Roberts would tell you himself though that it may have been all for not as his Pens were ousted by the better and more prepared Wings. Perhaps we all just need to realize Sundin needs to go where he can win. Perhaps we all need to realize that Sundin has already made up his mind and all this pointless banter is just a time filler until we are let in on the real plans.
A blockbuster trade a la Cliff Fletcher may be in order. Imagine Jokinen, Horton, Beaumeister to the Leafs for picks and players. I cant see how anyone in their right mind would let go of these players but then again it is Martin that is running the ship down in Florida and at least this blogger doesnt hold much trust in his abilities. Far fetched? yeah, I know. But what if? How about if Fletch was able to trade up for the Kings 2nd overall pick before the Sens get their hands on it. A package of Wellwood, Colaiacovo and their 7th pick may entice the forward starved Kings to pull the trigger but is Doughty really that big of a jump over Schenn who they are likely targeting at 7th? Schen may not last until 7th, do you take a shot and maybe miss all together? The experts are preaching defence first but what about the offence? Kyle Beach could be a gem although some head injuries are cause for concern at such an early age. Kubina and a glutt of players could pry stamkos out of Tampa to be the heir apparent but that is perhaps the most far fetched of all scenarios.
Buy-outs of Tucker and co could free up some cap space to sign a few high end free-agents but the Hossa's of the hockey world aren't looking Toronto's way. If the Leafs landed Olli, Mats may be more likely to return but the Wings can offer countrymen to play with on the Detroit/Sweden Red Wings. Mccabe and Blake to the Isles would free up even more cap room but then who would the Leafs faithfull have to pick on when times get rough, and they surely will get rough at time this coming season. Even scapegoat Andrew Raycroft is unlikely to be around to catch an earfull of boos after his less then stellar 2 wins in 16 tries as backup to Sir Vesa. Changes are on the way Leafs Fans, can you believe it?? changes are actually on the way!!!
Ron Wilson will give accountability to the new team. A possibility of Brian Burke next summer could give even more optimism even if some doubt he actually IS as good as some say he is. Tlusty a year older and wiser can't be a bad thing, his 10 goals and 16 points in 58 games with just under 11 minutes averaged ice time may not seem like much but consider that the rookie is just 20 years of age and with more minutes and further growth he could be a bright spot in years to come. (Not to be a pessimist but it pains me to see what Crosby does at this same age. Yes I know they are in a different class but doesnt it just put it all in perspective. My wife always tells me to look at the bright side, I guess the bright side here is at least we have a team.)
One things for sure, there may not be many wins this season but it will likely be an exciting ride. We are finally building for something people. The road has to start somewhere and why not here and now. A deep draft and lots of picks, some savy managing and the Maple Leafs could be on their way.
You Heard It Here!!