Breaking Up the Gang
Don't expect to read any rejoicing over the departure of Darcy Tucker here.
No, he and I never liked each other, never got along. That's okay. We're all grownups.
But for the majority of his time in Toronto, you had to like his spirit and moxie, even if it was too often more self-serving than team oriented.
Tucker, like Tie Domi, created an image in Toronto, and like Domi, went south as a player when he started to believe too much in those press clippings.
But that doesn't change the fact that, pound for pound, he was one of the fiercest players to ever wear blue-and-white. Had he stayed real, had he not tried to re-invent himself as a scorer rather than his natural role of agitator, the Leafs surely would have liked to have kept him.
Fair or not, Tucker was viewed as one of the leaders of the so-called Muskoka Five, a gang now broken up by GM Cliff Fletcher. Fletcher vowed big changes, and you have to give him credit for following through. Tucker's gone, Mats Sundin's all but gone, and Kyle Wellwood, John Pohl and Andrew Raycroft are also no longer Leafs.
Bryan McCabe, by autumn, will almost certainly be playing somewhere else, as well. So the players who banded together to defy the wishes of management and remain Leafs at the 2008 trade deadline have, really, gained very little in the end.
Tomas Kaberle, at this point, seems the only one of the five certain to stick around. Tucker's pink slip was signed the day new head coach Ron Wilson mused aloud that the truculent winger seemed to have "worn down," likely echoing the thoughts of the rest of the Leaf management team that watched Tucker play all last year.
Tucker, if he can get back to his roots as a player, may find new life elsewhere. Sundin certainly will. It's less clear about Wellwood and Raycroft. McCabe, once traded, will undoubtedly be a better player elsewhere with the pressure of playing in Toronto and living up to his ridiculous contract lifted from his shoulders.
But it really doesn't matter what any of these players do in their post-Leaf career. None were going to help the team in the immediate future, with a very difficult 2008-09 season looming, and with their no question any longer this is a major rebuild.
Essentially, Fletcher has, indeed, blown up the Leafs. The next steps will be interesting. Does he try to replace Tucker with free agent Sean Avery? Would the Leafs pitch for Marian Hossa to replace Sundin as the team's franchise player?
Or will this club do the smart thing, suffered through a difficult season next year, pick very high in the '09 draft and really try to build something that lasts?