The black cloud perpetually looming over the Toronto Maple Leafs has hung ominously low in the past weeks.
With lacklustre efforts resulting in loss after loss, the Blue and White appeared to be completely buried under the speculation of the futility. Changes were needed sorely.
Then, on Tuesday, January 22, 2007, what has been hoped and prayed for by Leafs Nation for 5 years finally happened. MLSE hung the help wanted sign on the front window of the Air Canada Centre as John Ferguson Jr. was relieved of his duties as GM and Vice President of the team.
But why is there not more rejoicing among the Toronto faithful?
The overwhelming theme of the coverage I have seen and read since the firing are unanimously decrying the conduct of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and CEO/Team President Richard Peddie. In the opinion of this writer, this is rightfully so.
To anyone who has read any of my past articles, I am guilty of JFJ bashing, as are many of those who spoke out against MLSE's fleecing of the young GM, but I must claim ignorance in my assertions and extend my apologies to Mr. Ferguson.
In the last few months, the hockey world has become more and more aware of the deeper layers of this situation, including agenda pushing by the Board of Governors, megalomaniacal behavior from Richard Peddie, and the necessity of board approval on all hockey moves by Ferguson, not to mention the willingness of MLSE to use Ferguson as a shield from media and fan scrutiny.
And therein lies the problem.
Now they have to find a man willing to become the new media pinata, and with the reputation MLSE has earned itself in the past 5 years, Toronto has become to executives what Edmonton has become to free agents.
In the meantime, former GM Cliff Fletcher has been handed the reins (or at least as much as Peddie felt he should get) to hopefully straighten the course for this fast fading group.
Yes, JFJ is gone, never to hand out another no trade/no movement clause, and we have the gentleman responsible for bringing Gilmour and Sundin to Toronto, where they enjoyed their best years.
But is it really something to get excited over?
To say this situation is fraught with potential and pitfalls is like claiming Peddie's lawyer-esque double speak is but an occasional habit.
Of the potential benefits of this situation is Peddie's declaration that he will resign his position as team president to either the new GM or a more suitable candidate when one is found. The downside? He will co-chair the committee charged with finding said replacement.
Farbeit for me to poke holes in MLSE logic, but it seems slightly counterproductive to make the individual who openly admitted he made a 'big mistake' in hiring Ferguson, your go-to guy in hiring a new GM and team president.
Peddie's tenure as team president is best likened to the scene in Robocop 2, where after becoming overwhelmed with garbled OCP programming, Robo opts to grab a hold of an outdoor power transformer to shock himself clean, and the only way the onlookers can remove him is by clubbing him with a readily available 2x4.
Peddie, garbled with Pension Fund rhetoric, has locked on to the Maple Leafs hockey club with an iron grip, becoming volatile to anyone who might come into contact with him. The only way to remove his parasitic presence from the team is with a swift, decisive action intended to remove him with as little detriment to himself and the club as possible.
Will it happen? No. The teachers love him as their puppet, because he is their conduit to feeling like hockey guys, which they clearly are not.
So where to go from here?
The task at hand for Cliff Fletcher is to decide the tone for the remainder of the season; are they buyers or sellers? Does Sundin stay or go? Do you blow a hole in the hull to sink the team into a high pick in a wonderfully deep draft year? Do you make moves to coast into a first round meeting with the Ottawa Senators?
If you become a seller, certain moves are essential.
Firstly, convince Sundin to take a trade, get a Ryan Smyth-esque deal, and resign him in the off-season to an Alfie-esque deal. Use the resultant picks/prospects to leverage yourself for a higher draft pick by trade OR use them to rebuild.
Dump Raycroft for something, ANYTHING by the deadline, at the very least he is a solid backup for a team with something resembling a defensive corps (Hello Anaheim).
Decide between Kubina and McCabe because in the new NHL, having both of those contracts on the books is unacceptable and indicative of poor managing, like in the case of Kubina, take ANYTHING, just get his $5M off the books.
Lastly, decide between Blake and Tucker. $4.25M and $5M for the performance they have put in this year is atrocious. In the case of either, if offered anything over a third round pick, take the mulligan and chalk it up to experience.
Right there, that's almost $12M in cap space freed up, and three albatrosses removed from the teams neck.
If they become buyers, certain younger players will have to become expendable, including one or more of Steen, Stajan and Wellwood (I'd mention Collaiacovo in the same regard, but it would be too expensive to continually provide the taker team with the duct tape we use to keep him together). Ponikarovsky would also be a viable commodity, as would Ian White.
Personally, I would tolerate another playoff miss as long as there was a clear commitment from team management that it would be allowed to facilitate a brighter tomorrow.
Just 24 hours into his interim position, Fletcher will have to decide in the next 2 weeks exactly how he will shift the foundation.
Stay tuned Leafs fans, one way or the other, this will mean changes, and with the guy who managed to bring in Doug Gilmour in a trade involving Gary 'Where's the Blue Line?' Leeman, we're going to find out if you indeed can teach an old (desert) dog new tricks.
On the Bleacher Report, I'm Andrew Castaneda. Look for my more candid hockey writings at www.snipeshowhockey.com.