Leafs pay for past sins

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Corey Perry grew up little more than an hour down the highway, played his junior hockey two hours from the Air Canada Centre, and never had the chance to be a Maple Leaf.

For Toronto, he is yet another symbol of what has been lost in the quick-fix generation,

Wojtek Wolski was born in Poland, grew up around the city, played his junior hockey in Brampton. Like Perry, Wolski would have been a perfect Leaf.

In his first National Hockey League season, Paul Stastny scored one more goal and one more assist than did Mats Sundin in one of his final NHL seasons. The Leafs should have but didn't have any real opportunity to draft Stastny.

Why the connection between three of the brightest -- and at one time available -- young lights in the National Hockey League?

All three were players the Leafs could have selected had they not succumbed to quick fix deals that cost them prominent early draft picks in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

And now, the deals made by the fired Pat Quinn and the soon- to-be-fired John Ferguson, first for Owen Nolan and later for Brian Leetch, are coming back to bite a team that has almost no bite up front. Perry has been a force on an emerging kid line in Anaheim throughout the playoffs. Wolski was a 22-goal scorer in his first full season in Colorado. Stastny had amazing numbers with the Avalanche and is a serious contender for the Calder Trophy.

And all of them, in this case of salary cap, work cheap.

The Nolan deal has turned out to be one of the great disasters in Leaf history, both economically and from a hockey standpoint. Never mind how much money the Leafs had to pay to make Nolan's injury situation go away.

But the last giant deal Quinn made before he had to relinquish his general managing position ended up costing the Leafs useful parts in Alyn McCauley and Brad Boyes and a first round pick which the San Jose Sharks traded to Boston which used it to select defenceman Mark Stuart.

Taken a few picks earlier was Ryan Getzlaf, who is starting to look like a young Mark Messier in Anaheim. Taken a few picks afterwards was Perry, the 60-goal scorer from the London Knights, who has been pushed and prodded and prodded some more into becoming a solid contributor with the Western Conference champion Ducks.

The Brian Leetch trade -- the only big deal Ferguson has made in his strange run in charge of the Leafs -- has also turned out disastrously.

Naively, Ferguson gave up two prospects and two draft picks for Leetch, not anticipating (was he the only one in hockey who missed this?) the lockout that his coach got fined for referring to as Armageddon.

Goes to show how well Quinn and Ferguson got along; One predicted the lockout was coming, one pretended like it wasn't happening.

Leetch ended up playing 15 regular season games and 13 playoff games for the Leafs -- all of them at a very high level -- but the price, in retrospect, was astronomical.

In the 2004 draft, the New York Rangers selected what to date has been a minor league winger named Lauri Korpikoski. The Leafs didn't miss much in Korpikoski but three of the next four picks were Travis Zajak, Wolski and Andrej Meszaros -- all of whom now take a regular shift in the league, two of them on high-end teams.

This year, Ferguson sent a second--round pick to Phoenix in exchange for Yanic Perreault, who barely played any kind of role with the team. The deal looks ordinary now: It will look worse once the second round class of 2007 begins to emerge.

But as Floyd Smith said when he traded a first round pick that eventually turned out to be Scott Niedermayer to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Tom Kurvers: "If it doesn't work out, I'll be fired anyhow."

For now, as Perry and Meszaros skate as kids in the Stanley Cup final, Leafs fans are left to ponder what might have been. It is a location with which they are all too familiar.


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