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THN.com: Fletcher failing Maple Leafs with poor decisions

The Leafs moved up two spots in the first round to grad Luke Schenn at No. 5. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

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The Leafs moved up two spots in the first round to grad Luke Schenn at No. 5. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Toronto interim GM Cliff Fletcher got the man he wanted Friday at the entry draft, but paid a high price in doing so.

Fletcher moved up from the No. 7 draft position to No. 5 to secure rugged defenseman Luke Schenn from the Kelowna Rockets. In a perfect world, Schenn develops into an Adam Foote stay-at-home defenseman; a step down from that, maybe a Brendan Witt-type.

But in getting Schenn, the Leafs gave the New York Islanders the No. 7 pick (where Toronto likely would have had their choice between forwards Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey or Cody Hodgson) and two draft assets; an early third round pick and an early to mid-round second pick.

With a franchise so desperate for solid assets, giving up two early picks was something the Leafs simply could not afford to do. Even if Schenn turns out to be an Adam Foote in a few years, what support will he have? What good was Foote to the Columbus fortunes the past three seasons?

One of the picks the Leafs gave up to move up two spots in the draft was the No. 68 pick Saturday. Do No. 68 picks have much of a chance in turning out? Not really. In analysing the 25 players selected in the No. 68 spot between 1979 and 2003, only five had significant NHL careers (Tony Amonte, Jarkko Ruutu, Craig Rivet, Chris Tamer and Dave Karpa).

The second round pick the Leafs gave up – again we remind you, just to move up two spots in the draft – will come in 2009. In theory, that could be as early as No. 31, but to be reasonable, let’s say the Leafs perform slightly better in 2008-09 than they did this season (maybe I’m being generous).

Let’s say they finish somewhere between 17th and 21st, just out of the playoffs. That would give Toronto the No. 40 pick overall. That pick goes to the Islanders, thanks very much. Of the 25 players selected at No. 40 between 1979 and 2003, more than half went on to lengthy NHL careers. The best of the bunch were Chris Chelios, Bryan McCabe, Michael Peca, Jozef Stumpel, Mikael Renberg, Dave Christian, Fedor Tyutin, John Druce and John Chabot.

Even at the No. 44 draft position, 12 of the 25 became solid NHLers, the most notable being Mathieu Schneider, Guy Carbonneau, Ilya Bryzgalov, Paul Stastny, Mike Fisher, Jose Theodore, Mathieu Garon, Nelson Emerson and Jordan Leopold.

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So it’s reasonable to suggest the Leafs gave up two future NHLers (the No. 7 pick and the better than 50-50 chance that one of the two other picks turns out) for what effectively will become a solid stay-at-home defenseman.

Is this how winners are built?

Fletcher’s expensive move to jump up two spots in the draft shouldn’t have happened at all if only he had been more successful in executing his mandate when he was brought in to replace John Ferguson.

Fletcher’s task was to see the team through to the next GM by culling the high-priced dead wood and set the early tone for the rebuilding phase. He wasn’t able to move the Muskoka Five with no-trade clauses, but he could have and should have shuffled more developing and inexperienced players in from the AHL’s Marlies and usurped coach Paul Maurice’s attempts to win games at all costs when making the playoffs was the longest of long shots.

Toronto won 12 of 17 games from Feb. 16 to March 22 (getting 25 of a possible 34 points) riding Vesa Toskala in net, when Justin Pogge and Andrew Raycroft should have been spelled in for the good of the organization.

If the Leafs would have won just three fewer games during that stretch – and still secured 19 of a possible 34 points – they would have finished fourth last in the league standings and not have had to give up two draft assets to jump up two spots in the draft. They would have had their choice between Alex Pietrangelo or Luke Schenn.

Fletcher’s greatest failing is not the expensive trade he made Friday, but not using his managerial power more effectively in February and March.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

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