For the Toronto Maple Leafs the Future is the Future

Matthew Di NicolantonioAnalyst IFebruary 1, 2008

As January came to a close with a controversial loss, the calendar flips to February, and Toronto looks to turn over a new leaf. 

This club's struggles during the first month of 2008 cost former GM John Ferguson Jr. his job.

The Leafs finished January with a 5-8-1 record, and all the players will be saying that they look forward to starting fresh in February.

This is a mighty important February. 

With the trade deadline now just 25 days away the Leafs slipping closer and closer to conducting a fire sale.

Nearly everyone is auditioning their talent—either to remain on the team, or to look admirable to potential trades. With Cliff Fletcher at the helm, it's certain that no Leaf is safe from trade.

Players like Darcy Tucker, Jason Blake, and Nik Antropov will undoubtedly be considered by teams in playoff contention, and all three have picked up their play of late.   

I felt a sense of irony when I flipped my Toronto Maple Leafs calendar to February this morning. Mats Sundin was looking back at me, and I could not help but feel there was no more appropriate choice for this month. It's as if the people who made the calendar knew what was going to be happening during this month. 

First off, Mats Sundin turns 38 on February 13. Thirteen days later is the NHL trade deadline, possibly Sundin's lats day as a Maple Leaf. I have written several times that I believe the best course of action for both parties is to trade Mats for assets to help the team in the future, and I will stand by that. 

But with each passing day, Mats continues to state that he wants no part in going to a contender for the chance to win the Stanley Cup.

It is extremely likely that this is just part of the politics of hockey. Sundin needs to keep his poker face on to convince the Toronto fans and media that he wants to be part of the club forever, but really he is already in discussion with GM Cliff Fletcher about potential trades.

How would it look if Mats says "Yeah guys, I want out. Cliff is working hard to make sure I'm not here by the time March comes around."

We all know Mats has more class than that, but such is the message that comes across if he openly states that he wants a trade.

Sundin wants to remain as loyal as possible to the team he has played for over the last thirteen years. If Mats doesn't get moved, I won't be heartbroken, but I will still disagree with the decision.

If there is no Mats Sundin trade, there will absolutely be several other moves to position this club to acquire some fine young talent going forward.

Now to last night's mess in Carolina. While going forward please note that I am a Toronto fan. However, I am also a journalist, so I will try to make this piece sound as objective as possible.

I'm not sure I have ever seen a hockey game in which more close calls went against one team.

I watched in disbelief as Carolina was awarded a clear high-stick goal. Moments later, the frustration mounted as Jason Blake's potential game-tying goal was incredulously disallowed.

Only against Toronto, I thought.

Mats Sundin's goal that eventually tied the game for real was also reviewed. I really think Sundin could have gotten away with kicking it in because I don't think the officials wanted to have three, third-period calls going against Toronto. Mind you though, this is the NHL, so they were probably disappointed when Sundin's goal showed up clean.

I've never been one for conspiracy theories, but one that has been presented to me over and over again this year by a friend is certainly starting to creep into the back of my mind, especially after the Carolina game. 

The theory is that NHL comissioner Gary Bettman hates the Leafs.

I initially discredited this because I believed that nothing so corrupt could happen in this league.

While I'm still not sold on it, you have to start questioning it. So many questionable calls have gone against Toronto this season, it certainly seems like someone, somewhere, really doesn't want this team winning.

Of course with the luck of this team, they will clean house at the trade deadline and completely dismantle the team, only to see their youngsters go on a tear and finish 11th in the Eastern Conference and pick up the 11th or 12th overall selection in this year's entry draft.

I must admit, if the team is going to miss the playoffs—and it appears that there is no chance of avoiding that now—I want it to be bad. I would rather see them finish at the bottom of the league and get a selection in the top five than another mediocre selection, even if this is a deep draft.

Which brings me to my next topic, the morale and support of the fans.

I've heard countless people saying they wish the Leafs would tank the season, lose every game and get the #1 pick. While that sounds great in theory, it sounds awful in practice. What kind of fan wants to see their team lose every game.

The only kind I can think of is a bandwagoner. People who will stop watching when the team is losing, but then come running back when the team uses the resulting draft picks to crawl back to respectability.

I wil be with this team until the end, even with all the difficult loses, and there have been many this year.

It's becoming disheartening because the team is playing well enough to win. They're playing hard and battling through some key injuries.

The best case scenario is for the team to win at the same rate as all the teams in front of them. That way the morale of team and fans remains high, while they make up no ground in the standings and obtain that high draft pick.

It's a win-win situation.

So Leaf fans, I beg you. Please do not abandon this team. It is important to stick with them through good times and bad.

I do believe that Fletcher will be successful in trading away some veteran talent, even if it may be sad for us to see it go. However, those trades will help re-build the franchise, and return it to the days of glory we all remember.

Just one quick thought on potential General Managers for next season. James Duthie on TSN made an interesting comment this week that was likely more comical than serious.

He suggested Anaheim Ducks' GM Brian Burke trade for Sundin and then in the summer, he would become the Toronto GM and put to good use the prospects and draft picks he traded away in February.

He would follow that up by re-signing Sundin in Toronto. Typical evil-mastermind style that we have come to know Burke by. Once again, I believe it was more of a comical statement, although one that does not seem entirely outside the realm of possibility.

As a final note, I have read this morning that Nik Antropov has been suspended three games for allegedly throwing his stick at an official after coming out of the penalty box following the OT winning goal. I have not seen video of the incident so I will reserve comment for a later date. 


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