Toronto Maple Leafs Rebuilding Efforts Not Up to Par

Matt SibbaldContributor IJuly 6, 2008

I have many mixed feelings about how the Leafs rebuilding process is going. As many hockey personalities know, the Leafs have never been a team that built their success through the NHL entry draft.

Thus, when they selected Luke Schenn with the fifth-overall pick in the 2008 draft, I was absolutely thrilled. I thought they were finally onto the right track of how to rebuild and make their team stronger.

Around that same time, I recall watching the morning edition of Sportsnet, and finding out that the Toronto Maple Leafs had placed Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood, and Andrew Raycroft on waivers. As much as I enjoy watching these players play the game of hockey—Tucker with his relentless grit, Wellwood with his magician-like puckhandling, and Raycroft's timely saves—none of them have aided the organization like anyone thought they would.

After this exceptional start, I begin thinking that the Leafs are actually going to take the right steps in rebuilding the franchise—maybe signing a big name to replace Sundin, or maybe even trading some of the slow and inconsistent D-Men for quick and powerful offensemen.

But despite these thoughts, low and behold—the next few days I see reports on some of the deals the Leafs have executed, including acquiring Jamal Meyers, Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, Curtis Joseph, and re-signing Dominic Moore and John Mitchell. If they plan to make a run for the Cup by acquiring rookies, tough guys, and formerly retired goalies, they are seriously mistaken.

Now I like Cujo just as much as the next person. However, when I look around the league I see players that I remember playing on one of Team Canada's dominant junior teams from a few years back—who are now some of the biggest names in hockey. Names like Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, Dion Phaneuf, Johnahan Toews, Corey Perry, Shea Weber, Karl Alzner, Steve Downie, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Kyle Chipchura, Marc Staal, Kristopher Letang, Cam Barker—the list goes on and on.

This is my problem with Cujo being signed: If you look on the Toronto Marlies roster, you will see a goaltender by the name of Justin Pogge. This young man, if you remember, was the number-one goaltender on Team Canada for the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championships. If you also remember, he won every single game for them in that tournament—albeit, with a pretty outstanding offense and defense helping him—and he did it without letting in a single goal.

The fact that Pogge is still in the minor leagues while his major-league team is signing formerly-retired goalies instead of bringing him up is a joke. The Leafs are throwing this kid's talent away without even giving him close to a fair chance at proving himself in the big time. Even using Pogge as a backup would get him up with the big club and allow him to play a game here and there, giving Toskala a break and Pogge the chance to gain some very helpful experience.

This kid was a first-round draft pick, and he hasn't played a single regular-season game with the Leafs. The fact that they struggle finding consistent goaltending should have them bringing him up to Toronto on a regular basis, if not keeping him there.

Out of all the problems I have with the Leafs organization, that is my biggest. There is no way a goalie chosen in the first round of the NHL entry draft—by a team that has difficulty year after year in finding consistent and solid goaltending—should still be waiting to don the jersey of his NHL team for this long. Especially when there is a vacant spot for a backup goaltender on the squad.

If I was in Cliff Flethcer's shoes the day Raycroft was released to waivers, I would have called Pogge up from the minors in five seconds. Mind you, I would've called him up last year, when Toskala and Raycroft were sucking it up.

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