One Step Forward, Four Back
There are many reasons why the Leafs can't move forward.
One is that this franchise can never resist moving backwards.
They fired Punch Imlach in 1969 because he was running the team into the ground. Then they brought him back a decade later to finish the job.
Carl Brewer walked out on the team in 1965. They brought him back 15 years later at age 41 and he aptly demonstrated he couldn't play anymore.
Wendel Clark was the future when he was drafted in 1985, and no longer the future when he was traded away for Mats Sundin in 1994. Then they brought him back. Twice.
Doug Gilmour brought the last sense of glory to the team with the run to the conference finals in '93 and '94, but by the winter of 1997 was gone for a package of futures - Jason Smith, Alyn McCauley and Steve Sullivan.
Five years later, he was back again, if only for an unbelievably brief time. Then he came back again as an executive.
I could go on. Mike Pelyk, Steve Thomas, Drake Berehowsky, Tie Domi, Bobby Baun, Darby Hendrickson - the list just goes on and on. I mean, last week, they extended an offer to Curtis Joseph to come back for another shot.
It fits a franchise bereft of ideas that the best ones always seem to be familiar ones, usually ones that failed before.
No other team does this, or at least not nearly to this extent.
So of course the Leafs have reached out to Cliff Fletcher.
It's the only hockey executive's name most of these dummies would know.
Come on back, Cliff. All is forgiven. At a time when rebuilding through the draft is the only way to go, why not re-hire the man who coined the phrase, "Draft, schmaft?"
Does nobody remember that in Fletcher's last season the Leafs finished with 68 points and were even worse than they are now? Doesn't anybody remember they didn't even get to use that miserable season to draft high because the No. 4 pick was traded to the New York Islanders, who selected Roberto Luongo?
Going for it now and paying for it later was the m.o. of the last 15 years of Fletcher's career. He traded Brett Hull to get Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. And in Phoenix, he was part of the management team that embarked on a disastrous program to bring in faded stars in an attempt to make the Coyotes competitive.
Now, let's be clear. Fletcher is a classy, classy individual who has done more in and for the game that most anybody on the planet. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a builder, he was one of the few you could say actually deserved it.
But hiring him to be the caretaker GM isn't just a case of MLSE being unable to think outside the box. It's that their box is so incredibly small.
It's a desperate attempt to grab on to Fletcher's popularity, still impressive in the city a decade after he left.
Fletcher has oodles of friends in hockey, and so you'll hear tribute after tribute about him, about his knowledge and experience.
What you won't hear is anybody telling you the truth because people respect Fletcher so much.
They won't tell you that they had to get him out of out the Phoenix hockey operation super fast because he was driving Mike Barnett and Wayne Gretzky crazy.
Fletcher was allowed to walk away from that hockey disaster without a mark on him because he is so beloved in the game.
But if he comes back, the gloves will be off again.
I hope Fletcher tells these morons to take a hike. He doesn't deserve this, although you can bet the old energy is coursing through the Silver Fox's bloodstream this morning.
Being a GM in the NHL these days is a young man's game. It takes an incredible amount of dedication and energy and drive. Wanna hire a Fletcher? Then hire his very smart son, Chuck, now an executive in Pittsburgh. This team needs a GM to get to work now, not an interim GM to hand off the job in June or July, thus putting the Leafs behind the eight-ball for next season. Again.
Then again, we all need a good laugh now and then. And watching the Leafs go backwards again is just too funny. Remember when they fired Roger Neilson, then brought him back a couple of days later and wanted him to wear a paper bag over his head.
Hey, Maybe Cliff will wear a paper bag!
But if he won't do it, how about Floyd Smith? Or Pat Burns, yes, that'll work. Or Doug Carpenter, or Gerry McNamara, or John Brophy, or Jim Gregory, or Mike Smith, or. . . . .