On Jan. 22, 2008, Cliff Fletcher returned to familiar territory and began his second housecleaning as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club.
Sixteen seasons earlier, he had been brought in by new majority owner Steve Stavro to fix the sinking Maple Leaf ship.
That is where the similarities end.
In 1991, Fletcher didn't have a whole lot of talent to trade. He had Vinnie Damphousse, who was coming off a 73-point season, and former 50-goal shooter Gary Leeman, and both would be gone within six months, bringing big names like Doug Gilmour, Grant Fuhr, and Glenn Anderson to Toronto.
This time around, "The Silver Fox" inherited a roster full of veterans, five of whom were carrying no-trade clauses in their back pockets courtesy of former GM John Ferguson, Jr.
As the Feb. 26 trade deadline approached, the media reported that Mats Sundin, Thomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, and Darcy Tucker had all been asked to waive their no-trade clauses.
Fletcher is one of the best general managers that this city has ever seen, but even he could not salvage anything from this situation. By the end of the day, he had only moved Hal Gill, Wade Belak, and Chad Kilger for picks.
In Cliff's defense, he did his job and fielded offers for all of the players, but it was their right to choose.
Tucker was the first to announce his answer—a flat out "no."
Reports from the Toronto media indicated that McCabe could waive if the right team came along, but nothing came of it.
We never did hear what the offers were for the above players, but the deals for the other three were well publicized. In the end, all refused to waive, but what would the Leaf roster look like today if they had?
I know that there is no guarantee that the Leafs would have selected the same players that were picked in the NHL Entry Draft, but we'll ignore that fact just to make it more interesting.
Mats Sundin to Canadiens for Chris Higgins, and First, Second, and Third Round Picks
The 25-year-old Higgins is off to a slow start for the Habs this year, but had 20+ goals in each of his first three seasons in the NHL.
The first rounder was eventually traded to the Calgary Flames in the Alex Tanguay deal. The Flames selected winger Greg Nemisz from Windsor in the OHL. Nemisz has size (6'3", 197) and has 13 goals and 20 assists in 29 games for the Spitfires this season.
The Habs selected Danny Kristo of the USHL's Omaha Lancers in the second round. Kristo has scored six goals and 12 assists this season.
The third rounder was used to take winger Steve Quailer. Another big kid at 6'3", Quailer is playing college hockey at Northeastern University where he has 11 points in 16 games.
This one is a no brainer considering the Leafs are about to watch Sundin sign with another team while getting nothing in return. Higgins is better than he has shown and is hidden in Montreal's depth. Kristo will play on the US team in this year's World Junior Tournament in Ottawa. Nemisz and Quailer are big kids and this would have been a great deal even if only one out of the three turned into a decent NHL player.
Thomas Kaberle to Flyers for Jeff Carter and a First Round Pick
Carter has quickly blossomed into a gritty scoring winger in his fourth NHL season with 19 goals and seven assists in 26 games.
The first rounder was sent to the Washington Capitals in the deal that brought Steve Eminger to Philly. Washington selected American defenceman John Carlson with the pick. Carlson is 6'3", 210 pounds, and has six goals and 15 assists in 21 games with the OHL's London Knights this season.
If Kaberle had waived, the Leafs would have won this deal hands down. Carter would fit perfect in a rebuilding program and would easily be their top winger. Carlson is the top scoring defenceman on the first-place Knights and looks like a pretty decent prospect.
Pavel Kubina to Sharks for Kyle McLaren
The Leafs were interested in this deal purely for salary dump reasons. The 6'4", 219 pound McLaren is a stay at home defenceman who was better suited for the "old" NHL. This was proven when the Sharks sent him to Worcester of the AHL this season.
Sometimes the best deal is the one you don't make and this is a prime example of that. The Leafs are in a rebuilding mode and need young players in return for their veterans. McLaren is 31 years old, the same age as Kubina, and no longer an "NHL defenceman." Kubina has bounced back this season and will fetch more at the deadline this year.
There is no doubt that both the 23-year-old Carter and 25-year-old Higgins would be top six forwards on the Leafs this season and a huge part of the rebuilding process.
As mentioned above, there is no guarantee that the Leafs would have drafted the same players that the Flames, Habs, and Caps did, but there seemed to be some good prospects available and they would have drafted somebody of value.
If either Kaberle, Kubina, or both had been dealt then Carlo Colaiacovo would probably still be a Leaf right now.
Sundin, Tucker, and McCabe have all moved on with only Mike Van Ryn to show for it thanks to JFJ's "gifts." Kaberle and Kubina will both be moved by the March 4 trade deadline if new GM Brian Burke can convince them to do what Fletcher couldn't: leave!