Thursday, May 06, 2004

Tee time in Toronto

Many aren’t surprised, but the end of the Toronto Maple Leaf season once again is bringing out the same old songs. Every year at this time we get the same old ageless hits from Toronto. For every season turn, turn, there is a reason and if the refrain from the Big Smoke is heard correctly, that reason is age. The consensus after bowing out to the Flyers is that the golden oldies in Blue and White will soon be making way for the rappers and the new country rockers, for the Times they are a changin’.

As Rosie DiManno recounted the final disappointing moments from the dressing room for 2004, others looked ahead to where the Leafs must go and how they have to get there.

The guy with all the pressure on his shoulders is John Ferguson Jr. installed in August as General Manager of the Buds, he gave the senior citizens one last chance to recreate the magic of 67. Financial decisions abound (something close to the heart no doubt to the pension fund that lives off the fortunes of the Leafs, and the faceless investors in MLSE who check the stock tables before the scoring summaries) should he try and sign Eddie Belfour to over 7 million a year, or thank him for his hard work and wish him well. Belfour recently passed on a six million dollar extension, his value increasing with each game saved during the playoffs. But do the Leafs want to tie up that much cash if they choose to go in a different direction?

Restricted free agents are piling up in the dressing room of the ACC like discarded hockey equipment, Bryan McCabe, D’Arcy Tucker, Tomas Kaberle, Aki Berg, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky all will be looking for new and rewarding deals, McCabe and Tucker will probably be the only ones to really feel truly wanted around the negotiating table.

The farm club is thin and the first round draft picks are gone, so Ferguson will have a hard time building this team up through the draft and call up design. The trade route may be his best weapon, bundling up some of his middle talent players and bringing in some players in the middle or start of their careers.

His biggest decision though will be how to approach Pat Quinn; if he’s to keep the core of this team around and make another run at things then Quinn will coach through his final year, but will most likely want an extension. If Ferguson feels it’s time to rebuild from scratch with a massive exodus, then he’ll have to buy out the last year of the Big guy’s contract and his dismiss his assistants. The task then will be to find himself a new coach and staff and re-design this thing from the beginning.

A phone call or two to Gary Bettman might come in handy, if the league is to shut down for the year or two predicted by the Hockey Armageddon follower’s, then he can just let things sit tight for the interim and approach things when the dust settles.

With the Leafs packing their bags, the Toronto scribes are getting their final kicks at the 2004 edition of the team that everyone has an opinion about. Stephen Brunt examines the fork in the road for the storied franchise; he wonders aloud who exactly is in charge and who has control of the wallet. Damien Cox suggests they go young and get their fast, nodding to the success of Pat Quinn, but calling for a new face with new ideas to be behind the bench whenever the next season begins.

In true tabloid style, Mike Ulmer pulls out an axe and names his victims, its two columns worth for slashing. And finally, Steve Simmons delivers a stinging rebuke of the play of the Buds, stating that they just weren’t good enough. Simmons Calls for changes to a team that needs major reconstruction. With 37 years gone by between Stanley Cups he may find a lot of support in his thesis. That is once everyone stops singing that one last farewell song, “Who’s Crying now.”

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