They say Rome wasn't built in a day.
Well, just imagine how long it would have taken if the architects had to tear it all down first.
That's the challenge facing Cliff Fletcher and the Toronto Maple Leafs this off-season. Not only do they have to find a bonafide franchise player to build the team around, they have to figure out a way to break up this bunch of underachieving, overpaid schmucks first.
That will be Fletcher's job this summer, and if you believe his statements so far, he's prepared to take no prisoners.
Whether the team's nucleus can actually be broken up is a different story, thanks to trigger-happy John Ferguson Jr. and his no-trade clauses.
A few steps can be taken, though. The first priority must be the entry draft. It now looks as if the Leafs will wind up picking seventh or eighth, so they must begin to map out a draft strategy.
Are they satisfied where they are, or do they want to move up and grab a franchise defenseman in the top five—or even Steve Stamkos first overall? Will they try to acquire another first-rounder? Which is more important, quantity or quality? These are all crucial questions, and considering the dire position the Leafs currently find themselves in, they had better be planning now.
Then we move to the current team. There are five players with no trade clauses. The odds of Mats Sundin returning for another season are looking lower and lower, especially considering the way he was treated around the trade deadline. If he leaves, that's $5.5M off the books.
Pavel Kubina's NTC has a trade window that extends from draft day until August 16. You can bet he'll be gone. Fletcher wasn't at all happy with Kubina's flip-flop the night before the trade deadline as to whether he would waive the clause. It is critical, however, that Fletcher treat the trade as more than a salary dump. He must focus on getting young assets in return. Kubina is a valuable defenseman, no matter what the Toronto media says, and he isn't so overpaid when you look at the current market for blueliners. A first rounder for Kubina is definitely possible.
As for the other three members of the "Muskoka Five," Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, and Darcy Tucker, getting rid of one would be sufficient. Kaberle should be kept as a building block. He should still be in his prime when the team is ready to compete. If Fletcher can convince either Tucker or McCabe to leave, the team would be much better off. These two are prime examples of the country club atmosphere in Toronto and carry hefty salaries as well.
Next, Andrew Raycroft must be bought out. At this point, he couldn't play in a beer league. The cap hit would be $667,000 over each of the next two years, which shouldn't be a problem for a rebuilding team. This allows the Leafs to get rid of Raycroft's cavalier attitude and bring up Justin Pogge as the full-time backup. With Vesa Toskala's injury history, Pogge would likely start close to 30 games.
Finally, there is the matter of hiring a new general manager. Toronto cannot afford to get this wrong, and having Gord Kirke involved in the process is encouraging. However, Richard Peddie should not be allowed within a 500 mile radius. This is the man who hired Rob Babcock and John Ferguson Jr., both unmitigated disasters. Sorry, Richard. Two strikes and you're out.
As for potential candidates, Brian Burke has emphatically stated his desire to stay in Anaheim. Ron Paul has a better chance of becoming the president of the United States than the Leafs have of luring Ken Holland from Detroit. Jim Rutherford of the Hurricanes is a distinct possibility, though. He has indicated an interest in joining the Leafs, if -- big if—they will give him full autonomy.
If Peddie knows what's good for him, he'll oblige and put the Leafs back on the right track.