Building the Leafs Back to a Strong Team
When Cliff Fletcher took over for the Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager position in late January of last year, he made one thing clear. That this team was going to be a young team and its primary focus is to grow as a team and build for future success, not short term gain. The rebuilding process started when the Leafs shipped out Hall Gill, Chad Kilger and Wade Belak. In exchange for these players, the Leafs got a 2nd, a 3rd and two fifth round draft picks. In May with no permanent General Manger found, Fletcher fired head coach Paul Maurice, and hired former San Jose coach Ron Wilson, who vowed to make the Leafs a much better team in the long run Then in June at the NHL entry draft Cliff Fletcher traded up to select standout CHL defenseman Luke Schenn 5th overall. Shortly after the Leafs bought out the contracts of both veterans Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. On July 1 Fletcher signed forward Niklas Hagman to a 4 year 12 million dollar deal, little known Jeff Finger to a 4 year 14 million dollar deal and fan favourite Curtis Joseph to a 1 year 750,000 deal. As well Fletcher acquired forward Ryan Holwegg from the New York Rangers, in exchange for a 5th round draft selection and as well acquired Mikhail Grabovski from Montreal in exchange for a 2nd round pick and prospect, Greg Patryn, also the Leafs signed defenseman Jonas Frogren out of Sweden to a 2 year deal. The Leafs also remained in the Mats Sundin sweepstakes by offering him a 1-year contract worth 7 million dollars.
After training camp ended, and former Leafs Mark Bell and Boyd Deveraux lost their jobs to younger players, the Leafs opened their season with a rather inexperienced team; many predicted that this team would reside along with the Atlanta Thrashers and L.A. Kings in the NHL basement. However new head coach Ron Wilson and his staff created an environment of working hard every game, otherwise those who decide not to work hard during a game will sit on the bench. 14 games into the season the Leafs stand at 5-5-4, certainly a much better record than many predicted. The Leafs have achieved this by hard work, grit and determination. Luke Schenn surprised many with his strong play, which has landed him a spot on the Leafs blue line for this year and the line of Kulemin-Grabovski-Hagman as played surprisingly well, and has become Toronto’s number one line.
This team has proven that they are simply too good to be in the running for either John Tavares or Victor Hedman come next June. Although this team is a hardworking team they lack the talent to be a playoff contender, as there is no real franchise player on this team. This is why it is essential for the Leafs once again come next June if not in a position to draft Tavares, they must move up in the draft to select him. If the Leafs stay the course and keep this team intact they could become competitive in the next year or too. Through smart drafting, good team building and perhaps signing some marquee players next summer in the likes of Rick Nash or Marian Gaborik this team would be built to win. In the new NHL the Leafs must build a core group, which takes time and then add missing pieces to it, either through free agency or Trade to become competitive.