TORONTO - It's been 11 years since Cliff Fletcher was last employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and he was the first to acknowledge that much had changed in the meantime. The team's new interim GM will take two weeks to formulate a plan to start turning around the franchise.
Here are a few suggestions about places to start:
1. Convince Mats Sundin that he should accept a trade. This topic has already been discussed ad nauseam by Leaf fans but there really shouldn't be much debate. Not only would Sundin net Toronto a package of young players, prospects and/or draft picks, but a trade involving him would also symbolize that the organization is committed to rebuilding. The toughest task for Fletcher will be convincing Sundin to waive his no-movement clause in order to allow a deal to go through. The captain has long said he wants to spend the rest of his career in Toronto.
2. Trade any of Jason Blake, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina. Each of these veterans is signed to a big money contract that could hamstring the team moving forward. Kubina is the youngest of the bunch at 30 while Blake is the only one without a trade restriction in his deal. All four players could play some sort of role for a contending team and the next Leafs GM would have a much easier job if any or all of them were off the books.
3. Draft, schmaft. The scouting staff is already in place and there's little Fletcher can do about that now. However, there's a good chance he'll be the main decision-maker at the team's draft table in Ottawa this June. The 2008 draft class is a deep one and the Maple Leafs will ideally be loaded with plenty of selections to make; that is, if Fletcher can sell off some assets at the trade deadline.
4. Evaluate the core. Fletcher stressed the importance of young players in building a winning team in today's NHL so he'll have to look closely at the guys currently on his roster. Players like Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Kyle Wellwood have had a few years to develop while guys like Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty are getting a chance this year. The GM should count on Steen, Stajan and 27-year-old forward Nik Antropov to take on increased leadership roles if he can move some veterans.
5. Goaltending. Vesa Toskala is obviously the No. 1 man at the moment but it's important Toronto has a guy to play behind him. Andrew Raycroft has struggled mightily in that role this year. If Fletcher could find a way to move Raycroft, that would allow Scott Clemmensen to become Toskala's backup for the balance of the season while prospect Justin Pogge assumes the No. 1 role with the AHL Marlies. Those could be valuable minutes for the 21-year-old.