Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher Rolls Dice with Retooled Roster

Mark MakuchCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2008

Aside from whether Sundin makes the call to return to the Leafs, and barring a trade involving Kubina or McCabe, it looks like the die is both cast, as well as being, in an unusual case of metaphorical homonyms, rolled, as well.

Heading into the dog days of summer Fletcher has revamped the Leafs' roster into a team with better potential: on paper they are more defensive, grittier, faster, and younger than last year.

On the defensive and gritty side of the page we have the much-maligned Finger signing, along with Frogren, Mayers, and Hagman. Schenn fits in on this list too, although he may not be with the Leafs come October.

On the speed front, Hagman and Grabovsky are known for their fast legs. Add to that a commitment by Fletcher to play Kulemin and Tlusty, and the forward group is pretty speedy indeed. Even Jason Blake is a quick guy, despite his age.

All the signings are under 30, except for Mayers, which has made the Leafs a much younger team as a whole. Despite the positive aspects of those changes, with that youth comes a whole lot of inexperience: the Leafs are more defensive, grittier, faster, younger, yes. And a whole lot greener, too.

So what should we expect from this group? While Fletcher has addressed some weak areas, there should not be any expectations that this group will compete in the playoffs this coming season.

Anything is possible, but that would require two or three young forwards to step up and score at unexpected levels right away.

The reality will likely be an uneven, up-and-down season, where different players make strides and have setbacks at different times. Hopefully we will see progress, both in individual players, and as a team. That progress may well be maddeningly slow.

The worst case is that the Leafs flounder so miserably that they need to be completely retooled again next year. In any event, it will likely be a season only a true Leafs fan will be able to enjoy.

The reality is that this group has a ton of potential, but no one knows if it will all materialize as hoped, or as quickly as hoped. It's all just well-calculated risk at this point. One or two of these signings may well be a bust, because you just can't expect Fletcher to bat 1.000 here.

On the flip side, one or two could work out way better than imagined.

But only time will tell. Luckily, it looks like Fletcher has the best coach for the job—Wilson has solid experience leading young teams and getting young players to be successful NHLers. Fletcher has rolled the dice, but they won't settle for at least another season.

It's up to Wilson to make sure they don't come up snake eyes in year one.