Cliff Fletcher's Goal Is to Make Leafs Tough Opponents

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IJune 22, 2008

Cliff Fletcher's plan to remake the Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a bumpy start at the trade deadline when he was unable to jettison any of the team's pricey veterans.

But a few months later, we are starting to piece together his vision for this team. A pattern is quickly emerging.The Toronto Maple Leafs of tomorrow will be a team you hate to play.

That sounds awfully good after seeing these pushovers stand around all too often when their teammates are in trouble.

Anyone remember when Tomas Kaberle was clocked by Cam Janssen, and the New Jersey Devils goon was allowed to skate to the penalty box unaccosted?

Those days are over.

It all started with the hiring of Ron Wilson behind the bench. Wilson is a no-nonsense kind of boss who instills a sense of teamwork and accountability in his players.

That second word is one that Bryan McCabe could learn a lot about,  Accountability. You can find it in the dictionary and on the Stanley Cup.

But I digress.

Wilson runs a tight ship, and Fletcher is setting about to give him the players he needs to execute his philosophy.

Next was the acquisition of Jamal Mayers on the eve of the draft.

Yes, seeing Fletcher give up a third-rounder for a 33-year-old reminded a lot of Leafers of past regimes. In defense of the trade though, Mayers is Ron Wilson's kind of player.

He's a terrific energy guy, a strong penalty killer, a good hitter, and most importantly, someone who won't be pushed around.

The best part of this move is that Mayers will help instill those attributes in the young players who will form the nucleus a few years down the road.

Those players will know what it means to stand up for one another.

No more standing around. No more making the star fight his own battles. No more Bryan McCabe shrugging off his bonehead mistakes in the locker room.

Next was the biggest move of all: trading up to land Luke Schenn at the NHL draft.

Schenn is a rock-solid shutdown defenseman and he's the ultimate team player. Some are comparing him to Dion Phaneuf without the offense.

Not bad, silver fox. Not bad.

At No. 60, the Leafs took Jimmy Hayes, a crash-and-bang winger who projects to be a power forward at the NHL level.

This is a guy who can find the net and will make you pay the price when you touch the puck.

He fits into the Fletcher/Wilson plan big time.

In the fifth round, the Leafs took hard-nosed centre Joel Champagne with one of their three picks.

While Champagne needs to use his size more, he is a major-league pest with some offense as well.

Maybe the next Darcy Tucker?

Then you look at the rest of the picks Fletcher made. There were eight of them, and every single one was six-foot-two or taller.

Champagne is six-foot-four, as is goalie Grant Rollheiser (sixth round) and Hayes is six-foot-five.

All of them are over 200 pounds except for Rollheiser and German forward Jerome Flaake, who weighs in at 187.

I'll tell you one thing, the Leafs of tomorrow will be big and punishing and you will not like to play them one bit.

Whatever happens over the next couple of years, that's one very encouraging aspect of this rebuild.


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