A few months ago, I thought McCabe would never go. There were reports of a brewing standoff between management and the once almost-star defender. Would he be asked to not show up for camp? Would he be a healthy scratch? Would the players union file a grievance?
It seemed that high drama was destined for Leaf land. Instead, Fletcher is playing Santa to many disgruntled Leaf fans. His gift? Addition by subtraction. A clean slate.
It has now been confirmed that Fletcher has pulled off a deal I once thought near-impossible. McCabe and a fourth rounder for Van Ryn. An old vet on the down-slide for a younger vet who knows how to play, but with yet un-realized potential. Oh, and almost 3 million cheaper with a year less on his contract. Two years at 2.9 million, if his injuries woes are over, is a good price for a decent defender that still has some upside. The fourth rounder? I can live with that.
This move is the final emphatic sweep of the broom to most of JFJ's core group. It signifies the end of the players once thought of so highly by Leaf brass and the worst bunch of underachievers that money and no trade clauses could buy.
The nay-sayers will complain that these moves will come back to haunt the Leafs. I'm sure they are cringing at the thought of Bryan McCabe putting a blast past Toskala from the point on the PP (I think its more likely that the shot gets blocked and we see Stajan or Hagman race down on a short handed breakaway. But I digress...). And I've read a lot of Wellwood becoming the next Steve Sullivan. That may happen, however, it certainly wasn't going to happen in Toronto.
And more-so, the same group that floundered so badly last year could not be expected to suddenly turn the Leafs into contenders. If they find success elsewhere, that's great for them. They obviously have talent and perhaps nothing shows more emphatically that hockey is more than just individual ability when players can revive careers with new teams and new coaches.
Thankfully, it is other teams that are picking up Leaf scraps rather than the other way around. While Colorado, Vancouver, and Florida are taking risks on players who recently have performed quite miserably, Fletcher has picked up players on the upswing—Hagman had a career year, Finger improved hugely over the course of last season, and Grabovski is eager to make his mark. These players are also much younger than the group they replaced.
Van Ryn could be tagged as damaged goods; however, the trade off in contracts is worth that risk for a team well stocked on defense. Sure, Fletcher's moves may not pan out, but they don't put the Leafs in a horrible cap situation. And if they falter badly, that only increases the Leafs' chances for a great catch on draft day.
Fletcher had to get rid of the over-aged, over-paid, and the under-performing. He has managed that beautifully, but until the news emerged in August of the trade with Florida, I never thought he'd be able to move McCabe.
With this last trade he has finally righted a ship that was sinking fast under the weight of bloated contracts. It is still in troubled waters, and is without a captain, and now, a bunch of young kids will have to learn quickly how to pull together to get it moving in the right direction. After all, Santa can't do everything. Onward ho!