Time to Fletch His Muscles
We'll know in a few hours whether dumping John Ferguson on Jan. 22 and repatriating Cliff Fletcher was worth the trouble for the Maple Leafs.
Today, the NHL trade deadline, is the day that Fletcher was brought back to navigate. After this, well, it's ride out the wave until mid-April, then sit back and watch the scouts do their thing until the entry draft in Ottawa. By then, or even sooner, the Leafs should have their new boss of hockey ops in place (of course, given that JFJ was hired in August, you never know with these people).
The interesting question will be, what exactly constitutes success for Fletch today?
Some have made this a no-lose situation for the Silver Fox, arguing Ferguson left him in an untenable situation with five no-trade contracts -- are those people aware, by the way, that players as peripheral as Mike Grier have such clauses in their deals? -- and so he can't be expected to do much.
Is moving Hal Gill for a draft pick enough? Or Alexei Ponikarovsky? Now that Alex Steen is locked up for two more years at $1.7 million per, should the Leafs listen to calls asking for the Swede?
Or does Fletcher, to be triumphant on this day, somehow have to figure a way to get one of the no-trade cabal to waive those rights and accept a trade, with Pavel Kubina and Bryan McCabe the only possible candidates, it seems.
To me, the dream scenario for Fletcher is if he can lay his hands on that first round pick owned by Anaheim but tied to the finish of the Edmonton Oilers.
Get that, and all past sins will be, if not forgotten, at least bathed in a new, forgiving light. Promise - the Kirk Muller for Jason Podollan deal and "draft schmaft" will not be brought up again if that pick ends up in Toronto hands.
The complication to all of this, of course, is that the trade market seems strangely slow, like Jason Allison on a shootout attempt.
Two weeks ago, the Sens and Canes did the Cory Stillman deal. Last week, Jaroslov Modry and Jim Vandermeer moved.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
On Monday, the drips became a trickle. Peter Forsberg signed in Colorado, and by last night, there were actual developments.
Tampa sent Vinny Prospal to Philly and re-signed Dan Boyle for six years, thus making the Brad Richards deal today a virtual certainty. St. Louis extended Barrett Jackman, taking him off both the trade market and the unrestricted list this summer. The Islanders, meanwhile, have contract offers on the table to Mike Comrie, Miro Satan, Josef Vasicek and Ruslan Fedotenko, and the deals that aren't signed could lead to moves involving those players.
Once Richards and Marian Hossa move, there's still the chance the dam will open, with Buffalo's Brian Campbell the next major domino.
The Leafs? They were trying hard into last night, talking to teams about five or six different players but with nothing concrete in place.
Should be an intriguing day.