Toronto Maple Leafs: Looking Back at Fletcher's Accomplishments

Rob EllisCorrespondent INovember 30, 2008

The excitement is back in the Toronto Maple Leaf camp once again with the official announcement that Brian Burke has signed on to be the team's President and General Manager.

As I sat back and watched the official press conference yesterday afternoon, I couldn't help but feel a sense of deja vu. Back in 1991, I remember the same sense of excitement in Leafs Nation when the fledgling Buds brought in Cliff Fletcher to break the curse that had been plaguing the Maple Leafs for 24 years!

So is Brian Burke walking into the same situation Cliff Fletcher inherited 17 years ago? Let's take a look at what Fletcher did in his first go around as Leaf GM.

When Cliff entered the picture he inherited a Leaf team that had gone 23-46-11 which was good for dead last in the Norris Division. The coach was Tom Watt who had taken over for Doug Carpenter, who was later fired during that season. Fletcher decided to keep Watt on as coach for the 1991-92 season.

September 19, 1991 - Fletcher trades Vincent Damphousse, Scott Thornton, Luke Richardson, Peter Ing, plus future considerations and cash to Edmonton for Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, and Craig Berube.

Analysis: On the surface, it looks like Fletcher gave away young players for has beens. In reality, he was trying to change the losing atmosphere in the Leaf dressing room and brought in experienced players who had won cups. Yes, Fuhr's best days were behind him but he would have eventually been sent packing for a HUGE part of the Leafs eventual "cup runs."

October 7, 1991 - Fletcher acquired Ken Linesman from Edmonton for cash.

December 18, 1991 - Fletcher traded Tom Fergus to Vancouver for cash.

December 26, 1991 - Fletcher traded Mike Stevens to NY Rangers for Guy LaRose.

Analysis: All three of the above trades had no bearing on the future.

January 2, 1992 - Fletcher traded Gary Leeman, Craig Berube, Michel Petit, Alexander Godynyuk, and Jeff Reese to Calgary for Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Kent Manderville, and Rick Wamsley.

Analysis:  Quite possibly the most lopsided trade in Leaf history. Leeman was a one time 50-goal shooter who would never come close to this again. Petit was a veteran defenceman who's best years were behind him. Reese was a career backup goalie, and Godynyuk was a promising defenceman who never panned out.

Berube was a throw-in, and Gilmour had come off seasons with 105, 86, 85, 91, and 81 points with the Blues and Flames. Macoun would log major minutes on the Leaf blueline over the next few seasons. Leeman would never score more than nine goals in a season after that, while Gilmour would break the 100-point plateau the following two campaigns.

March 10, 1992 - Fletcher traded Dave Hannan to Buffalo for future considerations. Also traded Claude Loiselle and Daniel Marois to the NY Islanders for Dave McLwain and Ken Baumgartner. Traded Lucien Deblois to Winnipeg for Mark Osborne.

Analysis: These were all considered "minor deals," but Osborne would go on to become a big part over the next few seasons.

The 1991-92 season ended with the Leafs sporting a 30-43-7 record and missing the playoffs once again, but the synopsis around the Gardens is that the future is bright. The Leaf dressing room is now filled with playoff experience and players who have won cups.

Fuhr has a disappointing season going 25-33-5 with a 3.66 GAA and an .881 save percentage. Young Felix Potvin got his first taste of the NHL shooters and impressed in limited action.

Summer 2002- Fletcher fires Tom Watt and brings in Pat Burns as Head Coach.

June 10, 1992 - Fletcher acquires Brad Marsh from Detroit for cash.

June 15, 1992 - Fletcher acquires goalie Jarmo Myllys from San Jose for cash.

NHL ENTRY DRAFT- June 20, 1992 -  Fletcher decided to play "musical draft picks" and does his part in earning the nickname "Trader Cliff!" The Leafs ended up with two first-round picks and ended up choosing Brandon Convery eighth overall and Grant Marshall 23rd overall. The islanders ended up with the Leafs' original fifth overall pick and used it to select hardnosed defenceman Darius Kasparaitis.

Analysis: A lot of activity with not a lot in return. Convery would be a bust and Marshall would suffer a serious neck injury that set back his Leaf career. Though he was considered one of the NHL's dirtiest players, Kasparaitis would go on to a long and successful NHL career. Fletcher also grabbed young Nikolai Borschevsky in the fourth round.

July 20, 1992 - Fletcher traded Brad Marsh to Ottawa for future considerations.

September 9, 1992 - Fletcher claimed Bob McGill on waivers from Tampa Bay.

Analysis- Neither transaction made any impact.

November 24, 1992 - Fletcher acquired John Cullen from Hartford for future considerations.

Analysis: This was Cliff's bid to get a decent second line centre to back up Gilmour. Cullen had some very good seasons with Pittsburgh backing up Mario Lemieux. He could not stay healthy with the Leafs, but was decent when in the lineup.

December 3, 1992 - Fletcher claims Bill Berg on waivers from NY Islanders.

Analysis: It's "little" moves like this that Cliff was famous for. Picking up "plumbers" like Berg and Osborne that nobody cared about at the time. Little did anybody know that both of those players would play major roles in the coming spring.

February 2, 1993 - Fletcher traded Grant Fuhr and future considerations to Buffalo for Dave Andreychuk, Daren Puppa, and a 1993 first-round draft pick.

Analysis: By mid-season, Felix Potvin had unseeded a suddenly old Fuhr as the Number 1 goaltender and Fletcher had an asset to move. Andreychuk would go on to score 25 goals in 31 games playing alongside Gilmour. Puppa played eight games as Potvin's backup and went 6-2 with a 2.25 GAA and .922 save percentage. What made the deal even more lopsided was who Fletcher selected with the Buffalo first-rounder.

February 25, 1993 - Fletcher acquired Brad Miller from Ottawa for a ninth-round draft pick.

Analysis: Ottawa used the pick to select Pavol Demitra, but who knew?

The Leafs finish the season with a 44-29-11 record good for third place in a suddenly dangerous Norris Division. Gilmour scored 127 points and received serious consideration for the Hart Trophy. Pat Burns won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year in his first season with the Leafs.

Fourth-Round draft pick Nikolai Borschevsky scored 34 goals and 74 points in his rookie season and scored the Game seven overtime winner in the first round against the Red Wings. The club then defeated the St. Louis Blues in the second round before meeting the L.A Kings in the Conference Final. The Leafs came within a Gretzky high stick of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. All is good in Leafland.

NHL ENTRY DRAFT- June 26, 1993- Fletcher used the 1st round pick he acquired from Buffalo to select defenceman Kenny Jonsson. He used his own 19th overall pick to select American Landon Wilson passing up the likes of Saku Koivu, Todd Bertuzzi, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brendan Morrison, and Bryan McCabe.

Analysis: Jonsson was a good pick and would have had a longer NHL career had it not been for injury problems. Wilson was a flatout BUST and can you imagine any of the above five players in the Leaf lineup?

July 30, 1993 - Fletcher traded Dave Tomlinson to Florida for cash.

September 2, 1993 - Fletcher traded Brad Miller and Jeff Perry to Calgary for Paul Holden and Todd Gillingham.

November 5, 1993 - Fletcher traded Mike Foligno to Florida for cash.

December 6, 1993 - Fletcher aquires Greg Smyth from Florida for cash.

January 25, 1994 - Fletcher traded Ted Crowley to Hartford for Mark Greig and a sixth-round pick in 1995.

February 21, 1994 - Fletcher acquired Pat Jablonski from Tampa Bay for cash.

March 18, 1994 - Fletcher acquired Ken Belanger from Hartford for a ninth-round pick.

Analysis: All of these moves were insignificant. Foligno was certainly "serviceable" during the 1993 playoff run, but he was getting older and had only been used in four games in the first month of the season.

March 21, 1994 - Fletcher traded Glenn Anderson, Scott Malone, and a fourth-round pick in 1994 to the NY Rangers for Mike Gartner.

Analysis: The deal was essentially an Anderson for Gartner swap. Gartner scored six goals and 12 points in the final 10 games of the regular season and had 11 points in the playoffs. I'm sure he probably would have preferred to stay with the Rangers though who would go on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

The Leafs finished with a 43-29-12 record, almost identical to the previous season. Andreychuk became the third Maple Leaf to score 50 goals in a season (Rick Vaive and Gary Leeman were the others) when he notched 53. Gilmour continued to dominate with 111 points and Wendel Clark had the best year of his career potting 46 goals in only 64 games.

Felix Potvin notched 34 wins in his first full season as the starting goaltender. The Leafs once again reached the conference final defeating the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks before losing to the Vancouver Canucks.

June 26, 1994 - Fletcher traded Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson, and 22nd overall pick in 1994 for Mats Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner, and 10th overall pick in 1994.

Analysis: A sad day in Leaf history as the beloved Wendel Clark leaves town. Two days before the draft, Fletcher shocks the hockey world by pulling off yet another "heist!" Sundin was the best player in the deal and would lead the Leafs for the next 13 seasons. Clark ends up BACK with the Leafs less than two seasons later.

This is where the "genius" of Cliff Fletcher seems to end. What follows is a boat full of "nothing" deals featuring journeyman NHLers and players who have left their best year's behind. Unfortunately, Cliff couldn't make lightning strike three times as there are no Mark Osbornes or Bill Berg's to be had.

NHL ENTRY DRAFT- June 28, 1994 - Fletcher traded Rob Pearson and Philadelphia's first-round pick in 1994 for Mike Ridley and Blues' first-round pick. He used the pick to select goaltender Eric Fichaud, and selected Sean Haggerty in the second round and Frederik Modin in the third. In the 10th round, Fletcher scooped Russian winger Sergei Berezin with the 256th overall pick.

Analysis: Fichaud never panned out and neither does Haggerty. This draft wasn't a very deep one, but names like Sheldon Souray, Chris Drury, Milan Hejduk, Mathieu Dandeneault, and Richard Park were all available after both Fichaud and Haggarty. Ridley would score 37 points in an injury riddled season.

August 10, 1994 - Fletcher sent Peter Zezel and Grant Marshall to Dallas as compensation for signing Mike Craig.

Analysis: Craig's Leaf numbers: 172 games played- 20 goals- 30 assists- 50 points. Enough said?

September 28, 1994 - Fletcher traded David Sacco to Anaheim for Terry Yake.

Analysis: Yake played a total of 19 games for the Maple Leafs.

October 3, 1994 - Fletcher traded Chris Snell, Eric Lacroix, and a fourth-round pick in 1996 to Los Angeles for Dixon Ward, Kelly Fairchild, Guy Leveque, and Shayne Toporoski.

Analysis:  Minor leaguers for minor leaguers.

January 18, 1995 - Fletcher acquired Randy Wood from Buffalo in the waiver draft.

February 10, 1995 - Fletcher acquired Warren Rychel from Washington for a 1995 fourth-round draft pick.

March 13, 1995 - Fletcher acquired Rich Sutter from Tampa Bay for cash.

April 6, 1995 - Fletcher traded Eric Fichaud to the NY Islanders for Benoit Hogue, a third-round pick in 1995 and a fifth-round pick in 1996. He also traded Nikolai Borschevsky to Calgary for a sixth-round pick in 1996 and acquired Paul DiPietro from Montreal for a conditional fourth-round pick.

April 7, 1995 - Fletcher acquired Tie Domi from Winnipeg for Mike Eastwood and a third-round pick in 1995, and acquired Gord Kruppke from Detroit for future considerations. He also traded Drake Berehowsky to Pittsburgh for Grant Jennings.

Analysis: The only significant name in any of these trades is the then still young and hungry Domi.

The strike-shortened season was a tough one for the Leafs and pretty much killed the momentum the team had after two long playoff runs in the previous seasons.  Sundin lead the team in points in his first season. Gilmour was fourth and recorded only one more point than defenceman Todd Gill. The team finished only two games over .500 and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Playoffs.

NHL ENTRY DRAFT- June, 1995 - Fletcher's "iffy" draft history continued selecting defenceman Jeff Ware in the first round. He followed that up by taking Ryan Pepperall in the third.

Analysis: I can't comment, I just can't!

July 8, 1995 - Fletcher traded Dimitri Mironov and second-round pick in 1996 to Pittsburgh for Larry Murphy and traded Mike Ridley to Vancouver for Sergio Momesso. He also acquired Rob Zettler from Philadelphia for a fifth-round pick in 1996.

Analysis: Murphy was the Bryan McCabe of the 90's and the Maple Leaf boobirds made him their whipping boy. The rest of the players acquired had little impact with the club.

August 30, 1995 - Fletcher traded the Leafs' first-round pick in 1996, second-round pick in 1997 and Kings' fourth round pick in 1996 to Philadelphia for Dmitri Yushkevich and a second-round pick in 1996

Analysis: Yushkevich became a very important part of the early Pat Quinn-era Leaf playoff teams. The Flyers cashed the first rounder in on Dainius Zubrus who had an up and down NHL career. This one would have looked much worse had the Flyers selected Daniel Briere who was taken nine picks later by the Phoenix Coyotes.

October 2, 1995 - Fletcher traded Warren Rychel to Colorado for cash.

December 4, 1995 - Fletcher traded Kent Manderville to Edmonton for Peter White and a fourth-round pick in 1996.

January 23, 1996 - Fletcher traded Damien Rhodes and Ken Belanger to the NY Islanders for future considerations and also acquired Don Beaupre and Kirk Muller from the  Islanders.

January 29, 1996 - Fletcher traded Randy Wood and Benoit Hogue to Dallas for Dave Gagner and a sixth-round pick in 1996. Then acquired Mike Pomichter from Chicago for cash.

February 29, 1996 - Fletcher traded Sergio Momesso to the NY Rangers for Wayne Presley and acquired Nick Kypreos from the NY Rangers for Bill Berg.

Analysis: Five more moves made that had virtually no impact on the future of the Leafs. He was trading away third and fourth line players for third and fourth line players. Muller's best years were behind him and was pretty much a checker when Fletcher aquired him.

March 13, 1996 - Fletcher traded Kenny Jonsson, Darby Hendrickson, Sean Haggerty, and a first-round pick in 1997 to the NY Islanders for Wendel Clark, Mathieu Schneider, and D.J. Smith.

Analysis: Clark returned and the city was once again abuzz. Jonsson was a good prospect and it hurt to lose him, but Wendel in any other uniform was just wrong! Sometimes what hurt the most was what you didn't see right away though. In this case it would be that first round pick. In June 1997, the Islanders used it to select the man who is probably the best goaltender in the NHL today: Roberto Luongo!

March 13, 1996 - On the day of Wendel's return, Fletcher wasn't done and ended up sending Dave Andreychuk to New Jersey for a second-round pick in 1996 and a conditional pick in 1998 or 1999.

Analysis: Andreychuk's production had fallen to just 20 goals and he looked slower than ever. If Fletcher could turn that pick into something useful, then it was a good deal (See 1996 draft). It also signified the beginning of the Toronto Maple Leaf garage sale.

March 20, 1996 - Fletcher traded Ken Baumgartner to Anaheim for a fourth-round pick.

The season was a miserable one for the Leafs who finished with a record of 34-36-12.  Fletcher fired Burns with 17 games remaining and named scout Nick Beverly as the interm coach. The club responded going 9-6-2 and clinching a playoff spot on the final day of the season. They would bow out in the first round to the St. Louis Blues.

Summer 1996- Fletcher hired Mike Murphy as the new head coach of the Maple Leafs.

NHL ENTRY DRAFT- June, 1996 - Fletcher had no picks in the first round, but had two in each of the second, third, and fourth rounds; hope was high that he might steal something in those six picks. He selected: Marek Posmyk, Francis Larivee, Mike Lankshear, Konstantin Kalmikov, Jason Sessa (no not Jason Spezza), and Vladimir Antipov (no not Nikolai Antropov).

Analysis: Have you heard of any of those guys?

June 14, 1996 - Fletcher traded Todd Gill to San Jose for Jamie Baker and a fifth-round pick.

Analysis: Baker played a total of 71 games for Toronto and was out of the NHL within two seasons. The always useful Gill would play another seven years with the Sharks, Blues, Wings, Coyotes, Avalanche, and Blackhawks.

June 22, 1996 - Fletcher traded Mike Gartner to Phoenix for a fourth-round pick and traded Dave Gagner to Calgary for a third-round pick.

October 10, 1996 - Fletcher aquired Darby Hendrickson from the NY Islanders for a conditional pick in 1998.

January 17, 1997 - Fletcher acquired Craig Wolanin from Tampa Bay for a third-round pick in 1998.

Analysis: None of the three aforementioned trades had much significance.

Halfway through the season the Leafs were clearly out of the playoff picture. It was believed that Fletcher was being pressured by ownership to get younger and cheaper prospects. He responded quickly.

February 25, 1997 - Fletcher traded Doug Gilmour, Dave Ellett, and a conditional pick to New Jersey for Alyn McCauley, Steve Sullivan, and Jason Smith.

Analysis: Gilmour had 60 points in 61 games when this trade was made, but this was clearly now Mats Sundin's team. This was an opportunity for the Leafs to get younger and shed some payroll. Gilmour (33) and Ellett (32) were in the twilight of their careers.

Sullivan and Smith were 22 and McCauley was 19, so this all seemed to have an upside. It wasn't Fletcher's fault how the deal would eventually turn out. We can blame that on Pat Quinn who eventually dealt away all three players for very little return. The truth is Cliff got some pretty good young talent out of the deal.

March 18, 1997 - Fletcher acquired Kelly Chase from Hartford for an eighth-round pick in 1998. He also traded Larry Murphy to Detroit for future considerations and Kirk Muller to Florida for Jason Podollan.

Analysis: More selling off older expensive players with youth or nothing coming back in return

The Leafs finished out of the playoffs with a woeful 30-44-8 record and Cliff Fletcher was let go by the Toronto Maple Leafs ending the most successful Leaf era since the 70's.

As a Leaf fan, it's not hard to remember how exciting it was in the early 90's watching the success of this franchise.

Cliff Fletcher brought hope back to a Leaf Nation that had suffered through the 80's, watching the Miroslav Frycer's, Peter Ihnacak's, Vinnie Damphousse's, and Ed Olczyk's lead the Leafs into the playoffs with 57 and 52 point seasons. Those were the years when Wendel Clark was the only reason to watch.

Looking back now, it's hard to believe that Fletcher's success was really only in his second and third seasons with a record of 87-58-23. In the other four seasons, his record was a combined 115-142-35, which was not exactly "successful!

One can only hope that Brian Burke will bring that same excitement back to Leafs Nation. Is there a Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, or Mats Sundin out there right now for Burkey to steal from an unsuspecting trade partner? The names that stand out to me right now are Gaborik and Kovalchuk, two players who are unhappy in their current situations.

The question is: who goes the other way? Kaberle? Kubina? Antropov? It seems like a longshot, but if anyone can bring a big name to Toronto it's Brian Burke. Hold on tight,  it's gonna be a great ride Leaf fans!


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