Righting the Good Ship Maple Leaf
JFJ has not been shy about making moves as the Leafs GM. Pre Lockout, he and Pat Quinn stated they would go for a serious Cup run and trade away some of their future for a chance to win the Cup. After losing out on the Sergie Gonchar sweepstakes, the rookie GM made traded for Brian Leetch to solidify his blue line. The trade still resonates more in New York then Toronto.The Leetch trade costs the Leafs a first and second round draft choice, and two young prospects Maxim Kondratiev who I found this quote about on hockey prospects “The young defenseman has constantly been touted as a talented prospect with a lot of potential, but has not played with any inspiration while with Portland” and Jarkko Immonen who hasn’t played a game in the NHL. His other acquisition – Ron Francis – was supposed to provide veteran leadership, a little playoff magic and a face-off presence in the mold of a Rod BrindAmour. It didn’t work out like the organization planned it, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. If he had won as a rookie GM, he would have had a nation of slobbering men at his feet.
Fast forward to post lock-out, and JFJ kept with the Veteran presence, signing Lindros, Allison, the great Marius Czercawski, and trading for O’Neill. That was last year and the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs. What can you say about those signings, they almost all were bad short term and long term, and give JFJ credit, he hasn’t given any of those players a sniff.
Much to the delight of many JFJ has dropped all his dud signings from last year, and at 1.5 million, O’Neill’s contract isn’t a burden to the team. He has given a chance to young players to make the team, gone are Berg and Klee on D, and in are his best signing to date – Kubina who will be worth every penny come the late season playoff hunt, Hal Gill to help on the PK and Peca to help improve the PK and give the Leafs an advantage in the face-off challenged North-East division. But his defining move will be his trade for Raycroft. He has 3 years to get the Leafs into the playoffs, if Raycroft gets into the playoffs 3 times it will be a great trade, 2 times will be a good-solid trade, 1 time will be disappointed and no playoff appearances will be a disaster. The last Calder winning goalie in the NHL doesn’t have a starting job in Nabakov, the one before him is pretty good in Marty Brodeur – but I think we all doubt the Bruins traded away a Brodeur type goalie. JFJ’s reputation will ride solely on this signing; JFJ’s future and with the Leafs and his reputation is in Andrew Raycroft hands.
The reality is the expectations on the Leafs have severely dropped since the beginning of last season when they were expected by many to make the playoffs. If they don’t make the playoffs this year, it will be disappointing but not a surprise – so JFJ has bought himself time. But he has done something that is very huge, he has bought himself time, and turned around the fans that were skeptical of him with his plan for the hockey team. His signings this season has showed that he has his ear to the ground and has a blueprint for the Leafs going forward. Whether it works won’t be known until the end of this season, or sooner. But JFJ has definitely silenced his critics, and the Leafs have gone from a team in disarray, to one that could make the playoffs in only 4 weeks