June 19, 2008
Fletcher sharpens his knife
Be it by trade or buyout, GM heads into draft with plan to drastically change look of the Leafs
By MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

OTTAWA -- If often-criticized defenceman Bryan McCabe is a potential victim of the imminent Maple Leafs housecleaning as is expected, it likely will not come via the buyout route.

That was the word yesterday from Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher, who is aware that McCabe's average salary of $5.75 million US translates to a hefty cap hit (almost $3-million per season for six years) in the event the Leafs attempted to buy him out.

The more logical way to go is to trade the veteran defenceman, the belief being that McCabe might waive the no-movement clause in his contract in order to go to a preferable destination such as the New York Islanders. The McCabes spend their off-seasons on Long Island, where Bryan's wife, Roberta, grew up.

One theory making the rounds here leading up to tomorrow's 2008 entry draft was that the Leafs might attempt to include McCabe and their No. 7 overall pick to the Islanders for a package that includes the No. 5 selection. By moving up two spots, the Leafs likely would land either Niagara defenceman Alex Pietrangelo or Russian forward Nikita Filatov, two players they covet.

But rather than make a knee-jerk reaction deal, the Leafs are thinking that it might be more prudent to wait until August when McCabe's value on the market could swell slighty. With only two blue-chip free-agent blue liners -- Brian Campbell and Wade Redden -- available in free agency, McCabe, who has struggled the past couple of seasons, might fetch more interest by teams desperate to augment their back end.

TUCKERED OUT?

While Fletcher will not make decisions on potential buyouts until late next week, it appears more likely by the day that Darcy Tucker could find himself in that very situation.

During a break between meetings with his staff about the coming draft, Fletcher yesterday hinted the $1 million US per season cap hit the Leafs would absorb would not be a big blow. The Leafs GM ideally would like to deal Tucker, but the player's agent, Carlos Sosa, is on record as saying his client would not waive his no-trade clause under such a scenario.

As for goalie Andrew Raycroft, another player mentioned in speculation as a possible candidate to be bought out, the Leafs believe they might be able to trade him.

SPECIAL K?

Pavel Kubina's stock certainly has risen.

Not so long ago, the Leafs -- not to mention their disgruntled fans -- would have loved to see the team move the beleaguered defenceman and his annual $5-million US salary. But his play in the second half of the 2007-08 season caused him to rocket past McCabe on the depth chart -- at least in the minds of the Toronto brass anyway.

Having watched Kubina scuttle a trade-deadline deal in February to San Jose when he refused to waive his no-trade clause, Fletcher now has an opportunity to deal him. Because the Leafs missed the playoffs, the no-trade clause becomes moot from the draft this weekend to August 15, a seven-week window in which the Leafs could ship him out without Kubina having any say.

Yet listening to Fletcher yesterday, a team will have to blow away Trader Cliff with an offer in order to obtain the services of the towering Czech.

"If anyone approaches us on Kubina, it would have to bring substantial return," Fletcher said.

SUNDIN'S SAGA

Fletcher does not expect a decision from Mats Sundin concerning his future until the beginning of next week, at the earliest.

"I've been talking to (Sundin's agent) J.P. Barry on a daily basis and he's going to be arriving in Ottawa (today)," he said. "Mats is over in Europe enjoying Euro 2008 and I don't think (J.P.) has talked to him (recently)."

ASSISTANTS CLOSE

Incoming coach Ron Wilson said he hopes to officially name his assistant coaches in the next couple of weeks.

"I have an idea who I want," Wilson said last night during the Scotiabank Dinner Behind The Bench, a gala in honour of the NHL Coaches' Association that featured a video tribute to the late Roger Neilson.

While there has been much speculation that Wilson could opt for Tim Hunter, his assistant in San Jose who played during Fletcher's regime with the Calgary Flames, a Sharks official said he would not be surprised to see Rob Zettler join the Leafs staff. Zettler, whose contract with the Sharks runs out this summer, was an assistant to Wilson in San Jose.

DRAFT DODGERS

Fletcher expects trade talk to heat up in the next 24 hours, but cautioned that the Leafs might very well keep their No. 7 pick.

"The chances are better than 50% that we'll keep the seventh pick, but they certainly are not 100%," he said, adding that "for every 100 balloons you float out there, maybe only one comes back."

Among the prospects interviewed by the Leafs yesterday was Kitchener Rangers forward Mikkel Boedker, who is ranked seventh by TSN.

"I saw that on TSN and when it worked out that the Leafs are picking seventh, it was kind of neat," the Danish-born Boedker said.

Boedker attended one Leafs game this year, a 7-2 loss to Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre.

"There were a lot of suits in the crowd," chuckled Boedker, who admits seeing "some of myself" in Minnesota Wild star Marian Gaborik, his hockey idol.

Kelowna Rockets defenceman Luke Schenn, another player who might be around at seven, said he would love to play for the Leafs.

"Are you kidding? Who wouldn't want to be on Hockey Night In Canada every night?"

IN CLOSING

The rumour that just won't go away: Joe Nieuwendyk officially hired by the Leafs for the front office in the first week of July.


CANOE.CA SLAM!