Leafs need to gamble

Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. might unintentionally put the club in a position to succeed. SUN MEDIA...

Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. might unintentionally put the club in a position to succeed. SUN MEDIA FILE/Greg Henkenhaf

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:05 PM ET

Purely by accident, John Ferguson's mismanagement of the Maple Leafs has put the hockey club in a surprising position of strength to move forward in the future.

Assuming he isn't making the decisions now -- or anymore -- the Leafs have a unique opportunity, for a club that has been skating in circles post-lockout, to start over.

As the Leafs creep slowly toward the bottom of the National Hockey League standings -- only two teams have fewer wins -- the real possibility of a lottery pick, and maybe even first pick overall in the NHL draft, isn't out of the question.

The draft pick is nice, but it's only a part of what needs to be done. If this team, in its current structure, is this terrible, then dismantling it over the next six weeks should be the goal for management, which is counter to Ferguson managing to save his job.

CASH IN

It isn't just about cashing in on Mats Sundin, who continues to insist he doesn't want to be traded.

The truth is, and for the good of the franchise, Sundin must be convinced to be traded.

He can choose to sign back in Toronto after the season if he likes. But the Leafs cannot afford to allow the possibility of stockpiling young players and draft picks in exchange for a player who is considerably more valuable at this point than Peter Forsberg.

If the price of Forsberg going to Nashville or Keith Tkachuk going to Atlanta in rent-a-player moves is an indication, the notion of a contender being able to add a player of Sundin's capabilities is indeed enticing.

Which, for a moment, brings us back to the dismal Leafs. If Ferguson isn't the GM of the future and isn't much of a GM of the present, should he be the one dealing Sundin? Will he get maximum value? Will he even entertain the subject if it means his certain dismissal? Will he last longer than the board of directors meeting sometime next week?

And if not Ferguson, then who begins the great Leaf selloff?

This isn't only about Sundin. It's about cashing in on every possible asset while at the same time opening some salary space, if possible. That is the real difficulty here.

Because, no matter who gets drafted in June with what pick, there is still $40 million in carry-over contracts to worry about and the not-signed Sundin is not among the $40 million. So it is imperative that between now and the trade deadline, the Leafs begin moving as many contracts as possible, clearing cap and roster space at the same time.

If Sundin needs to be convinced to be dealt, the same conversation must take place with Darcy Tucker, who is overpaid at $3 million now and barring significant change will be overpaid for the next three seasons also.

The Leafs have to determine what, if anything, they can get for Tucker.

It is the same story with Jason Blake, with Pavel Kubina, Mark Bell, Andrew Raycroft and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Blake is signed until 2012. Kubina and Ponikarovsky until 2010. Bell and Raycroft for another season. This is garage sale time. Everything is available for a price.

(I'd keep Nik Antropov, Vesa Toskala, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, whose salary decreases in each of the next two years, and not much else.)

Bringing in high-end draft picks to a roster that doesn't work accomplishes little. Clearing the deck is mandatory for the Leafs' future. Not only is it possible to come up with a Steven Stamkos or a Drew Doughty from this year's draft, but if the Leafs find enough homes for their veteran players, then a lottery shot at John Tavares or the Swedish Pronger, Victor Hedman, a year from now isn't a bad way to go.

It all comes back to decision-making, which by itself is problematic. Ferguson's agenda is to stay employed. The best way he can do that is by making the playoffs. But at this date, his personal agenda and the team's future agenda are directly in conflict.

And all this happening with Ferguson getting occasionally lucky. You see, when he traded for Toskala and Bell last summer, he gave San Jose the option of two different first-round draft picks from the Leafs, last year's pick or this year's pick.

Doug Wilson, who turned the choice and a trade into Logan Couture, was happy to use the Leafs pick last June. Truth is, he would have been a whole lot happier to have a shot at Stamkos this time around.

The Leafs now have a shot at a lottery pick. That has to be worth something. What they do with it and what they do around it will determine what kind of team they have for the future.


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