I was asked to write a midseason report card for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but in my opinion only three players have earned passing grades.
My harsh criticism of the team has left plenty of extra space, in which I will outline the only way the Maple Leafs can right their sinking ship.
My solution might not be a popular one, but it's the only fix.
The Toronto Maple Leafs: At The Halfway Point
(A+) Mats Sundin
Captain Mats has been a one-man wrecking crew. The majority of the Leafs' 16 wins can be credited to him.
He sits 12th in NHL scoring despite having little to no help from his linemates. Other NHL scoring leaders are climbing the charts in pairs —see Ottawa, Calgary, and Tampa for examples.
Sundin has been doing it alone.
(A) Tomas Kaberle
What had been keeping Kaberle from being considered an elite player was his hesitation to shoot the puck—but this season he has been shooting more and it’s paying off on the score sheet.
Tomas is currently ninth among defencemen in scoring and fourth in the Eastern Conference.
(B) Nik Antropov
I have to admit, I had given up on the veteran Kazakh.
But in his eighth campaign with the Buds, he’s finally rounding into the player he was expected to be when he was drafted in the first round a decade ago.
Nik credits his turnaround to the fact that this is the first year he hasn’t had to rehab an injury during the offseason. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.
He is already on pace to set personal records for himself in all statistical categories, but he could do even better if he were to use his size to his advantage when fighting for pucks in the corner—and if he shot more often.
My mother always told me if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
How To Fix A Failing Franchise
With a team in disarray what is General Manager John Ferguson Jr. to do?
John is in a precarious position: Does he save his job? Or does he save the team?
It doesn’t appear that he can do both. No wonder he seems to be in a state of permanent paralysis.
In order to save the Leafs, JFJ needs to start rebuilding now. If the Leafs ever plan to win a Stanley Cup, they have to forget about the 2008 playoffs and look toward the future.
In 2006 the Leafs had the opportunity to trade Bryan McCabe at the deadline, and instead JFJ opted to resign him and make a playoff push...and only came close.
In 2007 the Leafs had the opportunity to trade Darcy Tucker at the deadline, and instead JFJ opted to resign him and make a playoff push...and only came close.
In 2008 the Leafs have the opportunity to trade Mats Sundin at the deadline… will history repeat itself?
The fact is the Leafs do not have many tradable assets on their current roster.
While JFJ has been offering Andrew Raycroft around the league, nobody wants him. Ditto for Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, and Pavel Kubina. Toronto is stuck with those extravagant contracts.
The only player Ferguson can trade right now who will return enough value to make a significant impact on the future of the organization is captain Mats Sundin.
Mats is 37 years old and enjoying a career year. He is playing like he desperately wants to win a Cup. I say let him—only he’s not going to be able to do it in Toronto. Toronto does not have the nucleus to build a championship team in the next five years before Mats retires. If he ever wants to win a Cup, he has to look elsewhere.
When Mats agrees to waive his No-Trade-Clause and is packaged off to a contender, cries for the head of John Ferguson will rise up from Leafs Nation, and John Ferguson will likely lose his job.
Mats Sundin is this year’s Peter Forsberg. Take a look at Philadelphia and the impact that that deadline deal had on the Flyers organization.
The Philadelphia Flyers traded Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, a first-round selection, and a third-round selection. And Sundin holds more value than Forsberg because he his healthy, while Forsberg’s foot issues were well documented.
Fear not—I suspect that if Mats were to be traded for youth, prospects, and draft picks, he would return to the Leafs organization in the offseason—after making a legitimate Cup run.
If I still haven’t convinced you, let me remind you of how Mats Sundin came to be a Maple Leaf. In 1994 Mats was traded to Toronto for the Leafs' beloved captain Wendel Clark—a trade that the fans and media hated at the time, but ultimately was the right move.
Mats, good-bye, good luck, thanks for everything...and I hope to see you again soon!