Monday, February 18, 2008

The "Rebuild"

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae if she is checking in on this President's Day south of the border.

Today's post is decidedly un-American, but one we'd like to think Hazel is pondering.

The NHL General Managers are meeting in Florida this week and the talk in Hazel's hometown is about who, if anyone, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to move before the league's trade deadline on February 26th.

While everyone and their brother is calling for Leafs Captain Mats Sundin to be traded for a package of draft picks and young "NHL-ready" prospects, Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher has other options. For the record, the belief here is that Mats Sundin shouldn't be traded - it is hard to think that a team is going to do what Nashville did last year to land Peter Forsberg from the Flyers, despite what the so-called experts would have us believe.

The media in Toronto is positioning this as a no-brainer - "trade Mats now and re-sign him in the summer". Yes, it is that simple - to simpletons. The media's "GM for Dummies" theory sounds good on the surface, EXCEPT for two points.

First, teams learned from the Predators experiment with Forsberg; they aren't likely to present a package of draft picks or NHL ready prospects if Sundin isn't willing to sign an extension. Sundin has proven this year that he is still a force in the league and teams are going to want to have him for at least another year.

Second, who is to say that Sundin would run back to Toronto after all but being forced to leave? The tactics employed by the media and some members of the nation have ranged from guilt "if he really cared about the Leafs he would leave and come back"; to imploring him to leave "because we don't want you here, we want to get younger and better, so just go Mats" (the NHL's biggest donkey Mike Milbury came up with that one last week on TSN); to questioning his integrity and mental toughness "Sundin doesn't want the pressure of playing on a good team, he likes being the top dog on a bad hockey team" (Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun came up with that one).

Trading Mats Sundin will not fix the problem in Toronto - it is just a marketing thing to get Leaf Nation thinking about the future, rather than seeing what is in the present. The Leafs have to rebuild now, no question, but the rebuild has to start with getting rid of the terrible contracts on the team.

If "we" (Tilt and I) were running the show at the ACC, the rebuild would start with offering Mats Sundin a two-year $9M extension ($5M next year and $4M in 09/10). If the intention of the Maple Leafs is to get considerably younger in a hurry, they are better to keep a guy who loves the city and the organization and let him mentor some of the younger players coming in. Sundin would have another year as a first line center, before giving way in the last year of his extension to the next first-line center to lead the team - Patrick Marleau. That is where the rebuild would start - a deal with the San Jose Sharks to get Patrick Marleau.

The sentiment in Toronto has to be - with the exception of Mats Sundin - if you aren't likely to be here in two or three years, you might as well go now. With that in mind, here are five ways to kick start the rebuilding process and maybe cut a year or two off of it.

1) Focus on San Jose - the Sharks are looking for an offensive, puck moving defenceman. The Sharks are said to be interested in Tomas Kaberle - the answer would be a resounding "No thanks, but you are welcome to have Bryan McCabe." McCabe is said to be willing to waive his no-trade clause - explore that. Over the next seven to ten days, the Sharks might find that their only option is Bryan McCabe - Patrick Marleau wants out, the Sharks coaching staff wants to see him gone; the trade makes sense and isn't out of the question. Marleau comes to Toronto as the Leafs second-line center next year with the understanding that when Mats retires, the team is his to lead.

2) This was supposed to be written last week (lazy week) so it will come off as stating the obvious but, Darcy Tucker MUST be featured. Tucker hasn't been a physical player this year, so his own value on the trade market is if he can score. Tucker has to get first line PP minutes and be featured with Sundin to boost his offensive production enough to get the Flames to bite on him. The Flames are said to be shopping Alex Tanguay, while the preferred trade would be for a prospect or a draft pick, we'd take Tanguay and his ugly $5.5M contract - his game is more complete than Tucker's.

3) Hal Gill would be moved - Gill hasn't been bad this year and he has value as a fifth or sixth D for a playoff team; he has one year left on his contract, so a team that is desperate for depth should be willing to take him on. Toronto papers say that the Penguins are interested - thank him for what he brought, but move him to Pittsburgh for nothing if you have to. Chad Kilger would fit into this category - he hasn't been a bad player, but getting his $1M salary off the books for next year would help. Kilger brings a physical presence that playoff teams need - Fletcher should try to package him with Tucker to the Flames.

4) It is time to call an end to the experiment that saw Ian White and Kyle Wellwood called up to the big team - both have plateaued and aren't likely to get any better than they are now. These two won't generate any trade offers, so better to just cut ties now. White is too small to play defence in the NHL - he gets dominated night in and night out and coughs up the puck too much. Wellwood is a third-line center at best (with PP minutes added) but the Leafs have Matt Stajan who has much more upside than Wellwood.

5) Cut ties with players who haven't demonstrated they can play night in and night out - Wade Belak and John Pohl come to mind, among others. These guys don't make big money, but add three or four of them together and that's a two million dollar cap hit. It is time to bring up guys who make the NHL minimum and see if they can give you four to six minutes a game.

6) Bring up players who have the potential to get better - the Leafs could/should feature a young defensive corps with upside. Anton Stralman and Staffan Kronwall need quality NHL minutes if they are going to evolve into the players the Leafs hope they will. Both will make mistakes, but unlike guys like Ian White, they'll learn from them and get better.

It may be a lot to ask - some would say impossible - but we subscribe to the Brian Burke philosophy that "nothing is impossible, and someone is always willing to take a player off your hands if you TELL them it works for them". 2008/09 will likely be another painful year for Leaf Nation - but it could be the beginning of an accelerated rebuild where the team has upside and cap space to add a quality free-agent.

Our 2008/09 Toronto Maple Leafs would go back to the Maple Leafs under Pat Burns - load up two lines and everyone else go out there with the goal of NOT letting anyone score on you. The defence would be young and inexperienced - but an overall commitment to defence on the part of the third and fourth lines would help cover some of the mistakes.

For those of you snickering at this, I say this - "If the Bruins can do it, so can the Leafs who have better individual parts to the overall puzzle".

The suggestions have been sporadic of late - but I'll make it a point to post everyday now. The total for the year is still ugly - so we won't mention it until we get it down to a reasonable number. Today's suggestions:
New Jersey over Carolina -no brainer here. The Devils had a big win over the Tards on Saturday and the feeling here is that they should be able to build off that game. Lay $100 on the Devils - $200.
San Jose over NY Islanders - the Sharks dropped a tough one to the Rangers yesterday; while Leaf Nation would like to see them lose a few more (remember McCabe for Marleau), it isn't going to happen today. Lay $100 on the Sharks - $140.

There may be another pick or two later this afternoon.

Before wrapping this up - I'm sending a song of the day out to my favourite boricua from Boston who is going through a bit or a rough spell with her guy. To my girl Anita, a song (on youtube) from the incomparable Amalia Rodrigues:

"Nem as parades confesso"

That's it for today gang - thanks for taking the time to check in; back to daily posting.

Hazel, here's hoping things are groovy in your world - enjoy the long weekend.

I'm Out!


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