Takin' a T/O With BT: As The Toronto Maple Leafs Change Colors...

xx yySenior Writer IJune 24, 2008

Apparently, a lot can happen in two days.

Just last night I was wondering what was going to happen with Andrew Raycroft, while contemplating how to construct an article about how two of the most injury-prone Leafs—Kyle Wellwood and Carlo Colaiacovo—could be looking at two crucial years in their time with the Blue and White.

Tonight, as we were taking the field for our baseball game, I turned to Trevor and asked him what exactly he thought the plan was for Darcy Tucker, now that Jamal Mayers had come aboard and Cliff Fletcher was finally starting to take action with tihs team.

Now, all those questions have been answered—well except for Colaiacovo, although we may get there yet.

To say the least, the era of "Red-Light" Raycroft manning the pipes for the Blue and White is over.

After being acquired in exchange for Tuuka Rask in a deal that will live on in infamy as the pure definition of the JFJ era in Leafs fans' minds, Raycroft seemed to start his Leafs career admirably. Despite losing his first game, "Rayzor" was able to bounce back the next night and shut out the rival Ottawa Senators 6-0. He went on to post a 6-4-2 record in his first month as a Leaf.

But despite his knack for being able to pull out wins, Raycroft did nothing to ingrain himself into the good books of Leafs Nation. The former Calder Trophy winner never seemed to display an ability to steal games, and of his 37 wins, five games saw Raycroft give up four or more goals, while ten saw him give up at least three.

By comparison, Martin Brodeur only had to win two wins which saw him allow more than four goals, and eight in which he allowed three or more (for the record, Raycroft played in six fewer games than Brodeur—78 to 72—but won 11 fewer times).

Despite his 37 wins, which tied a franchise record, the fans weren't happy with Raycroft. He appeared shaky and prone to weak goals—opening the door to the best trade of Ferguson's career, the Vesa Toskala trade.

Side note: You can't deny this was his best trade—I mean he didn't make very many, but despite mortgaging two quality draft picks and having to pick up Mark Bell (time will tell with Bell), Ferguson actually addressed a need—albeit, one he inadvertently created—and improved the team.

(Coming in a close second was the reacquisition of Yanic Perrault.)

The hockey-crazed market of Toronto wasn't happy with just having "Rayzor" delegated to the bench, however. The fans smelled blood and wanted him out.

They pined for him to be demoted to the minors, wondered if we could squeeze a seventh-round draft pick out of anyone for our beleagured backup goalie, and some even started to hope he would just stop showing up for work.

After a 2-9-5 season, featuring a goals against average nearing the vaunted 4.00 mark (3.92), Cliff Fletcher finally put the poor guy out of his misery.

Joining him, though—much to the surprise of some and to the glee of others—was Kyle Wellwood.

In many ways, playing for the Leafs was like coming home for Kyle Wellwood—he just never seemed to stick around long enough.

Let's face it, we all thought the kid had promise—he still does—and we thought we'd be seeing a lot more of the tricks he was able to pull in the AHL in the big leagues. Toronto was frothing at the mouth to have this kid in the show, and in the beginning he didn't disappoint.

Following a forty-five point rookie season in which "Welly" missed only one game, he entered the 2006-07 season with high expectations. He spent some time with Mats Sundin on the top line, and even centered it when Sundin fell to injury. 

Wellwood topped off his ascension through Toronto's ranks with a hat-trick and two assists (five points, for those of you keeping score of games two years ago at home) on December 16th, 2006—my seventeenth birthday.

Then the problems started to pile up. After amassing 42 points in 48 games, Wellwood announced that he was going to have surgery in January 2007. Although it was expected Wellwood was going to be ready for the next season, he ended up requiring a second surgery just days into training camp.

He would play in 59 games in 2007-08, but he would amass only 21 points, while eventually missing time at the end of the season having his groin surgically repaired.

He also broke his foot recently playing soccer—it just seems like the problems would never stop for "Frodo."

Seriously, Frodo. What a demeaning nickname. I mean he wasn't even the hero in Lord of the Rings—Sam was. That's kind of like nicknaming Paul Maurice Emilio Estevez, isn't it?

Instead of just taking his chances with the man-games lost next year, Cliff seemed to desire to nip the problem in the bud, and let Welly get a clean slate somewhere else.

And that, boys and girls, brings us to Darcy Tucker—a man no one in Toronto will ever forget.

He was the pre-lockout Sean Avery—a player with a dirty history who wasn't afraid to do what it took to get under the skin of an opposing team, and we loved him for it. He embodied playoff hockey in Toronto, and if the Leafs had ever won a cup between 2000 and 2004 (especially the 2001-02 season) the man would have lived alongside Gary Roberts as a legend in the city.

Alas, for the man who was once traded for Igor Ulanov (Hey, I thought it was impressive—when was the last time you were traded for Ulanov?), it was not to be.

With the NHL cracking down on the rules and troublemakers like Mr. Tucker, Darcy began to change his game post-lockout—he posted a career-high with 61 points in 74 games, and he finished two goals away from his first thirty-goal campaign.

The only knock? Eighteen of those goals were on the power play.

As Tucker advanced into his contract year (2006-07), the trend continued, as 15 of his 24 goals came with the man advantage. But instead of dealing him, the Leafs and Tucker re-upped on a four-year pact.

One year later, and Tucker has become an expensive burden on a Toronto team that has too many to deal with. At thirty-three, the legs seem to be leaving "Tucks," while consensus among most is that the decline in his goal scoring (only 18 this past season) will continue. 

Some are complaining that the Leafs gave up to quickly following an off-year from Tucker—but off-year or not and fan favorite or not, this needed to be done.

If Toronto were to honor the final three years of his contract, they'd be drastically overpaying for a guy who barely produced more points per game than Dominic Moore did in his stint with Toronto (.45 in 74 games for Tucker, .37 in 38 games for Moore).

So where are the Leafs now? Well, as it stands—unless Pogge takes over backup duties—there's a hole behind V-Tosk at the NHL level. All the fans (and the organization) are asking is that whoever fills that void can stop pucks more frequently than 87 percent of the time.

On the forward lines, they've freed themselves from one of the most hindering contracts on the team, despite having to let go of one of their most beloved veteran players.

In addition to that, they've opened up a spot on the roster for a young—okay, Welly wasn't old at 25—healthy body to take up some minutes and provide an energized first step to a roster that is quite bare, but better for it.

Could Wellwood turn into the next Steve Sullivan—i.e. a successful player that the Leafs gave up on too soon? Sure he could, but at this point in time Welly was dead weight and empty games taking up room on the roster.

And what about Carlo? Will Mr. Colaiacovo be patrolling the blue line for the Blue and White next year, or will he be looking for employment elsewhere too?

Well, as we keep finding out, tomorrow is another day, and there's changes every day.

So far it looks like we're changing in the right direction.


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader on Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with him you can do so through his profile, and you can find more Leafs-related content in his archives.


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