Instant revival? Not in Leafs' case

KEN FIDLIN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Can lightning strike twice for MLSEL? Don't count on it.

Two years almost to the day after they tied the can to Rob Babcock, setting off a chain of events that transformed the Raptors from NBA laughingstocks into an instant mid-level contender, you don't have to be a mindreader to understand the collective executive-think down at Bay and Lakeshore.

In review: Babcock was relieved of his duties on Jan. 26, 2006. Interim general manager Wayne Embry immediately went to work clearing cap space for the runaround. Primarily, he convinced that sage of New York, Isiah Thomas, into believing he absolutely had to have the massively overpaid Jalen Rose but he also was able to move spare part Aaron Williams.

When Bryan Colangelo was hired about a month later, he had some cap space to work with. He also had a rising young star in Chris Bosh, a tradeable Charlie Villanueva and, a few months down the road, he got a bonus when the Raptors won the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery.

They went from the dregs to the playoffs in one year and now they have the makings of a perennial contender with a man, Colangelo, in place to see that it happens. All inside 24 months.

The MLSEL board may view Cliff Fletcher as their Wayne Embry, but there is no NHL dufus Isiah Thomas clone to syphon off any of John Ferguson's mistakes. Neither is there a Chris Bosh equivalent on the scene, or even on the distant horizon.

The one bullet in Fletcher's gun as he tries to pave the way for his permanent replacement is Mats Sundin. That's certainly some shiny ammunition that will no doubt fetch a decent return but so much more is necessary.

One or two key acquisitions can make a huge difference to a basketball team's fortunes because a star player routinely can play 40 minutes or more out of the regulation 48. Just look at the turnaround accomplished by the Boston Celtics this season as a result of the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside Paul Pierce.

In hockey, where the ice time must be shared among so many more players, a renovation requires both quality and quantity.

With a roster that features so many ordinary players locked into expensive multi-season deals, Fletcher has very little room to manoeuvre, no room for a mistake, and he knows it.

"It used to be, if you made a mistake on a contract, you could go to the owner and ask him for some money to fix the problem," he said before the Leafs beat Washington 3-2 last night. "Now, with the salary cap, it's a case of double jeopardy. When you make a mistake, not only do you have to pay for it but you have to live with it."

Few teams have bungled things as badly as the Leafs since the inception of the salary cap three years ago. Worse, they haven't drafted well enough to supplement their mediocre lineup with some good, young, homegrown legs. There is no financial justification in that realm. As Detroit GM Ken Holland once said "There is no salary cap on scouting." Rich teams such as the Leafs have no argument to make for not spending whatever it takes to have the very best scouting and development system in the game.

There have been teams who have quickly re-tooled their rosters, even in the new cap era. The Flyers, Penguins, Predators and Bruins come to mind. But in each of those cases, much of the improvement came from within by making good on high draft opportunities over the course of two or three seasons.

Anybody expecting a magical renaissance of the once-proud Maple Leaf will have to be patient for at least that long and then only if the new regime somehow can get it right where so many have failed over the past four decades.

Fletcher is a solid hockey man with a Hall of Fame track record. He will do what he can to set the table for the next supposed saviour, whoever that turns out to be.

As far as miracle cures go, though, the MLSEL board can forget it. Things are likely going to get worse before they get better.


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