Let's mortgage farm for Ovechkin

PETER WORTHINGTON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

Although the NHL trade deadline has passed for this year, there's always next year.

After nearly 40 years without a Stanley Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs fans are justifiably frustrated.

Their legendary patience with, and support of, a losing team may even be growing thin. What other city could sell every seat for every game over 40 years of failing to produce a true contender?

This year, more than most years, fans are restless. I know, because I'm one of them.

Professional sports writers also want a winner, and keep analyzing what Leafs management should do. Fire John Ferguson? Dump Coach Pat Quinn? Trade Sundin, Belfour, McCabe? Lots of scenarios, but no surefire formula.

As a Leafs fan for some 60 years, I'd argue a solution to their drought may lie in the 1947-48 NHL season.

More about that in a moment.

What the Leafs need is a fresh and inspirational player around whom a team can be built -- and it ain't Luke Richardson, whose career is winding down.

If I were running the Leafs, I'd mortgage the farm to get Alex Ovechkin from the Washington Capitals.

The Caps are anchored in last place with Ovechkin, at age 20, likely the greatest player of his generation -- successor to such as Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, all of whom dominated.

I'd trade any four or five Leafs for Ovechkin. He's that awesome. But would it benefit either the Leafs or Caps to enter into such a deal?

Go back to 1947-48. That was the year the six-team NHL went to a 60-game season in which the Art Ross Trophy was introduced -- the player scoring the most points during the regular season. It was the year the All-Star game was started.

Six games into the season, the Leafs pulled off the biggest trade in NHL history - Gus Bodnar, Bud Poile, Gaye Stewart, Ernie Dickens and Bob Goldham to last place Chicago Blackhawks for centre Max Bentley -- breaking up the lethal line of Bill Mosienko and Doug and Max Bentley.

I remember at the time how "experts" shook their heads. Great as Max Bentley was (Hart Trophy in 1946), the trade meant that the Leafs were sacrificing needed depth for one superstar.

Hap Day was Leafs coach, and the trade was brilliant for both teams. For the Leafs it resulted in three Stanley Cups in the next four years. The start of a dynasty.

As for Ovechkin, would the Caps trade him for, say, Sundin and any three others? They'd be crazy not to.

Would it be crazy for the Leafs to do it?

Great as Sundin is, and Tucker, McCabe, Kaberle and any Leaf you care to name, they've never brought the team close to a Stanley Cup.

After 40 years, radical innovation is needed. The Leafs are one of the richest NHL franchises, and management should have the pride to spend money to ensure a contender.

Again, back to that Max Bentley season. The Leafs who went to Chicago helped the team score more goals (195) than the other five teams, but ended in last place.

Leafs had the best goalie (Turk Broda) in a season of great goalies like Frankie Brimsek, Harry Lumley, Bill Durnan.

And Gaye Stewart and Bud Poile, traded to Chicago, each scored as many goals as Max Bentley (Stewart was fourth leading scorer in the NHL), so it was Max's leadership as a role model that made the Leafs special.

There's no guarantee that Ovechkin is a Max Bentley, but he's the only NHL player today with that potential. He can't do it for Washington, but he could for Toronto -- if given the chance.


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