In Dean Wormer We Trust
Dean Wormer, bless his imaginary Animal House heart, can provide direction and inspiration when all seems lost to the Leaf Nation.
Remember the immortal line, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son," with which the embattled dean lectures pathetic Flounder?
Now apply that to the Leafs, with a bit of a twist.
Gentlemen. Stupid and nice is no way to run an NHL team.
See, it's one thing for the kingpins of MLSE and prez Richard Peddie to moronically make one bad decision after another. It's one thing for them to clumsily and idiotically mishandle the Mats Sundin situation to the point the classy captain has now become a villain to some and still won't agree to a trade before tomorrow's deadline.
When you don't win for 41 years or even once make it to the Stanley Cup final, you're Flounder stupid. No way around it.
But it's the additional niceness part that's the real killer.
Nobody EVER makes a tough decision in Leaf-land. When Cliff Fletcher was fired the first time around in 1997, they offered him another job to stay in the organization. . .and a decade later he took it.
Pat Quinn was managing the team poorly, so they replaced him as GM but let him stay to coach and make life uncomfortable for his successor. Ed Belfour and Tie Domi were bought out only after Belfour got an extra few million and proved definitely he couldn't play and Domi received the most absurd tribute night in the history of tribute nights. (And could the rumours be true that one of the conditions to be the next Leaf hockey boss will be to hire Domi - Larry Tanenbaum's buddy and Sundin's new off-the-record "spokesman" - on as part of the hockey office?)
Now look at the current situation. The core "leadership" group of Sundin, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker proved emphatically several years ago that together they could not provide the central focus and direction the club needed.
In response, the team - either MLSE as a corporation or JFJ as a GM - gave them all lucrative no-trade contracts and hoped they'd turn into a quartet of Bobby Clarke's or Bob Gaineys.
Now, they're heaping all the responsibility on Sundin, pretending as though the other three had nothing to do with it. But Fletcher - never cutthroat, always a nice guy - never once even slightly indicated he would play hardball with the captain, but instead gently prodded him to waive his no-trade contract and failed, in the end, to get him to do so. Geez, Ferguson could have accomplished that.
Which brings us to Kaberle, Tucker and McCabe, the three caballeros who never seem to have to be accountable for anything.
Kaberle, like Sundin, has at least put two strong seasons together. He's no leader but he's a darn good player.
Tucker has been a disaster. He took a fat contract last season, didn't score down the stretch (zero goals in final seven games) as the team was trying to make the playoffs and has produced a lemon of a campaign this season while making sure one and all are aware at all times that he's battling injuries that would have a lesser man in hospital.
A hardminded, toughnosed organization, now faced with the fading winger's plans to stay another three years in Toronto, would send
show him where the waiver wire was, a strong signal to the rest of the team that Tucker does not represent a successful leader or player, and that while he has a no-movement clause as well as a no-trade clause (Ed note: Earlier post suggested he had only no-trade) for two more years, that doesn't make him indispensable or untouchable.
And McCabe? Back-to-back lousy seasons from him. The Bobby Orr of the Leafs has got 15 points in 35 games and hasn't scored since Nov. 20 (he was out with an injury from Dec. 1 to Feb. 7).
Now that he's back from injury and playing mediocre hockey, rather than dreadful hockey, everybody wants to hold his hand and tell him how well he's doing.
Can't send him down because he has a no-movement clause and a no-trade. But a tough, win-at-all-costs organization would sit him down, tell him his days as a Leaf are over. If he won't accept a trade, that's fine, but don't bother coming to camp next fall and forget about playing in the NHL until he will accept a move.
No hard feelings, pal. Just can't use your brand of shinny any longer, and its abundantly clear he can't succeed in the Toronto spotlight, which is no crime. If he simply stays home and happily counts his money, that only confirms the worst possible suspicions and believe me, you're not worse off.
Every other Leaf will see the way in which Tucker and McCabe have been dealt with and take notice.
The nice days are over. This organization doesn't mess around, even if it means spending millions to correct past management errors.
Of course, Fletcher isn't the guy to do this, and unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat tomorrow, his second go-round with the Leafs will have been a waste of time.
But even with the Sundin disaster now complete, this team needs to understand it cannot go forward again with the leadership group of Sundin, Kaberle, Tucker and McCabe.
Tough times require tough decisions. Look at the tough calls David Poile made with Nashville last summer when it looked as though the entire franchise was going down the toilet. Let Paul Kariya walk, traded Tomas Vokoun, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timmonen. Now look at the Preds (Hint: They're not in 28th).
Now look at the Leafs and Alex Steen. The former first round pick, just shy of his 24th birthday, has underachieved again this season, and his next 20-goal season will be his first. He had 18 goals two years ago, 15 last year (in seven more games!) and has beaten enemy goalies all of 11 times this season.
So, of course, he's rewarded with a new deal that doubles his pay, the first major decision of the temporary Fletcher regime. Wouldn't want the young boy to feel bad. Wouldn't want the hockey world to know (it already does) that the phenom the Leafs wouldn't trade for Chris Pronger isn't really a phenom but rather a soft third-liner whose apparent mentor with the Leafs is, of course, Tucker.
Being nice AND stupid, you see, has got the Leafs where they are today.