Saying Goodbye to Darcy Tucker: A Bittersweet Day

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IJune 25, 2008

Looks like Cliff Fletcher was dead serious when he said he was going to overhaul the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The latest evidence of that came Tuesday with the news that Darcy Tucker's contract would be bought out by the team.

Tucker has three years remaining on his contract at $3 million apiece. That means the Leafs owe him $6 million, to be spread over the next six years for an annual cap hit of a million dollars.

My reaction to this news is mixed.

Darcy Tucker was a heart and soul guy. If there is one player who defines Toronto Maple Leaf, he's it. This is the team he always wanted to play for and he did so with passion for eight years.

In fact, Tucker loved the Leafs so much that I have my doubts whether he'll be as effective with any other team.

When he was on his game—which was every night until 2007-08—Darcy Tucker was a player who could crush you physically or burn you with skill. True, he wasn't the most talented player, but he loved to drive the net and pick up all the garbage goals. Every team needs a player like that.

I loved Tucker so much that when I got a Leafs third jersey for Christmas a few years ago (like the one in the picture), I had Tucker's No. 16 put on the back.

I wore that jersey with pride. And when people substituted another letter for the "T" I didn't mind. Tucker was my favourite player. Surely I could put up with some abuse for the cause.

Yet for all of Tucker's heroic attributes, the past season surely saw the revelation of the hero's fatal flaw. It was obvious from the beginning that Tucker was playing hurt. Not only was he not scoring, but he wasn't being physical either.

Darcy Tucker not being physical? That's when you know something is wrong.

But the warrior struggled on, suiting up for 74 games and registering just 34 points—his worst offensive season since 2002-03.

That wasn't so bad, though. I can live with Tucker putting up 35-40 points, especially with the emergence of players like Nik Antropov and Jiri Tlusty.

But Tucker wasn't laying the body, he wasn't offering the team anything. He was taking up a roster spot without contributing. Even his power play production dried up.

So, the Leafs had some options. They could give Tucker another chance, considering it had only been one bad season and he had been injured.

They could try to trade him, though his agent Carlos Sosa was firm that Tucker wouldn't waive his NTC. In that case, they could put him on waivers and then bring him up on re-entry, hoping someone would claim him at half price.

That last scenario was somewhat plausible. I'm sure someone would take a chance on Tucker at $1.5 million, though the remaining three years on his contract might scare off some teams.

The last option was the buyout, and that's what Fletch did.

I don't completely agree with this decision. That's mainly because Tucker will be counting against the cap six years from now, when the Leafs should be ready to contend and will need that cap space.

True, it's only a million dollars, but it's still an anchor.

And as much as I know in my head that Tucker had to go, my heart is quietly sobbing today.

I'll miss Darcy Tucker and I'll never forget how he left everything on the ice every night.

A decade from now, I'll still be wearing that No. 16 jersey with nothing but pride.