No Way Out
So sayeth John Ferguson;
"You don't win the trade deadline if you don't win the Cup."
That quote, interestingly, came two years ago, just before the 2004 trade deadline. The Leafs had made a series of acquisitions, some of them costly, to acquire Brian Leetch, Ron Francis, Calle Johansson and Chad Kilger. Ferguson was being heaped with praise for the Leetch deal in particular, although he was the one who cautioned others with being too optimistic about what the veteran defenceman might be able to do with the Leafs.
Thus the "win the trade deadline" quote.
Then, the Leafs were trying to win the Cup. That's what they said, and, in case you missed it, it didn't quite work out that way.
Now, this is a hockey club in a very, very different position. This is a franchise, whether it chooses to admit it or not, that is on the precipice, close to falling over the edge into the bottom third of the league, a neighbourhood which it might occupy for a very long time.
The franchise centre, Mats Sundin, is 35. The goalie, Ed Belfour, appears to be finished. The No. 1 defenceman, Bryan McCabe, will be 31 in June and is holding a gun to the team's head for a contract figure his talent cannot possibly support.
There's considerable youth and promise, but outside of goalies Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask, it appears to be mostly support staff-type players.
In terms of defencemen and forwards, there isn't a sure fire first liner or top tandem blueliner in the organization. Maybe, just maybe, Alex Steen could yet emerge.
What that means is there is no easy answer to this week's trade deadline. Dumping players for futures is always interesting, and the oft-voiced concept that Leaf fans would never stand for a rebuilding process is laughable.
Adding big-name players in a rash bid to make the playoffs makes no sense, unless the addition doesn't substantially touch the modicum of young talent the team already has.
But it doesn't have to be an either/or thing. There are always possibilities in between at the trade deadline for teams looking carefully.
It's like the Tomas Kaberle contract, five years at $4.25 per. Those who defend it argue passionately that the risk of losing him to free agency this summer makes the contract logical.
But that assumes there was no other salary or term Kaberle would accept. It assumes it was a one-way negotiation.
Similarly, there are moves the Leafs could make by Thursday that would a) provide evidence Ferguson is still alive and breathing and b) come somewhere between the extremes of dumping players and sacrificing top prospects and picks for expensive veterans.
Look back to the '04 deadline. One of the players the Leafs were looking at back then was Anaheim backup goalie Martin Gerber as insurance for Belfour.
Ultimately, Ferguson and then Ducks GM Bryan Murray couldn't arrange a deal, but three months later Gerber went to Carolina for Tomas Malec, now an Ottawa farmhand, and a third round draft pick the Ducks used to select Kyle Klubertanz, a University of Wisconsin player who seems to have dropped right out of sight.
Imagine if the Leafs had been able to make that moderate-type deal then? Gerber has turned out to be a front-line player, something the Canes must have seen.
The Leafs can't solve their mounting problems at this deadline, and it appears more and more likely there's nothing they could do to help the team make the playoffs.
So you look for other things. It's not "winning the deadline," but it's something.