Fletch plays role of demolition man

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:47 PM ET

The 7,500-seat barn known as the Mutual Street Arena is gone now, demolished 20 years ago to make room for yet another downtown Toronto condo.

Back in 1928, the rink served as the home of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, a sad-sack squad that had just missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

For the next eight decades, the Leafs would not go through such a lengthy post-season drought.

Until now.

After watching the team fail to reach the Stanley Cup dance in 2006, ‘07 and ‘08, management did to the roster what the demolition experts did to the Mutual Street arena — they blew it up.

There was no other choice. The Leafs needed to rebuild; to get younger; to bring in new fresh faces into the dressing room.

As a result, the core was ripped from the team. Darcy Tucker is now an Av, Kyle Wellwood is in Vancouver, Bryan McCabe plays for the Florida Panther and Mats Sundin still has not decided if he wants to play any more.

Now the future rests with kids such as forwards Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jiri Tlusty, defenceman Anton Stralman and first-round pick Luke Schenn.

The Leafs know a playoff spot is unlikely. In fact, the team did not even budget for any post-season games, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.

“We want to see improvement month by month,” general manager Cliff Fletcher said. “That’s the immediate goal.”

In order to achieve that, the Leafs must provide their youngsters with gobs of ice time. With inexperience comes mistakes, sure, but they need to play. You can’t learn if you are sitting on the end of the bench.

“There has been a lot of turnover. This is probably the most I’ve seen here since I came on board in 1999,” defenceman Tomas Kaberle said. “It’s kind of funny. I was a rookie back then. Now I’m the guy trying to help out all the kids.”

With Kaberle lending a hand, the Leafs success will be measured by how those kids develop, not how many games they win.


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