It's really no big deal

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

So much for the great Maple Leaf sell-off.

There was no giant trade for the Maple Leafs. There was no Philadelphia Story. There was no garage sale reduction of salaries.

Trade Deadline Day was everything that is Maple Leafs these days: The production did not meet the promise.

But at least, and in fairness, consider the miserable circumstances Cliff Fletcher found himself in. Between the bad contracts, the no-trade arrangements, and the players of little value, this was at least a start for the Leafs. And maybe, finally, a vision and a realization that this team is in worse shape than anyone imagined.

There were players the Leafs tried to give away and couldn't. There were players the Leafs wanted to move and couldn't.

There is little in the trading away of Hal Gill, Chad Kilger and Wade Belak worth celebrating. Those moves didn't really accomplish what Fletcher had in mind.

He wanted to reduce the fixed salary costs for next season. He didn't. When you consider he just signed Alex Steen for $1.7 million and traded Gill and his $2.1-million salary away, there's not much of a salary saving accomplished at the trade deadline.

And aside from the second-round pick acquired for Gill and the third-round pick acquired for Kilger -- both of which were decent value for middle-rung players -- he didn't accomplish the goal of loading up on draft picks either.

But what has become apparent is there were few deals to be made. For reasons that make you kind of crazy, the five players with no-trade clauses would not relent and agree to be dealt. Brad Richards, a Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion in Tampa Bay, agreed to waive his no-trade to go to a serious Cup contender in Dallas.

The five Leafs -- only Pavel Kubina has won a Cup -- seem satisfied to remain with a team that has no chance to make the playoffs this year and very likely will be worse next season before it can better. Losing, I guess, doesn't suck the way it used to.

And it was clear that was a message Fletcher and those who support him were not prepared for. They believed, in the end, someone would give in. Pavel Kubina said yes, then no. Bryan McCabe said maybe. Darcy Tucker, who began playing well once the games became meaningless, is scoring and making a difference in games that only will hurt the Leafs draft position.

Fletcher even alluded to that problem, talking about the way the Leafs seem to play their best hockey once they are out of the race. In Pat Quinn's last season, the Leafs got hot after losing key back-to-back games in Montreal. Last season, they made a late surge to get into the playoffs and missed by one point. Strangely, about the only good hockey the Leafs have played has come as the team crawled closer to the bottom of the NHL.

So what does Fletcher do now?

Between now and the end of the season he needs to insist that Andrew Raycroft plays as often in goal as Vesa Toskala does. Not only does this get Toskala appropriate rest for his sore groin, but it exposes Raycroft to the rest of the NHL. If Raycroft plays well, the Leafs find a market for him. If he doesn't play well, the Leafs lose and that helps their draft position.

Either way, the Leafs win.

And he needs to insist that callups like Robbie Earl and Jeremy Williams and Kris Newbury and any of the young players get maximum ice-time. The Leafs know what the holdovers can do. They need to get a sound, long look at the their prospects to have an idea what the future has in store.

And if that doesn't work, they lose games and drop in the standings. Again, a win-win situation for the Leafs.

And when July comes, assuming the new general manager is not yet in office, Fletcher will have to determine who to buy out and who, if anyone, can be moved.

Kubina, Bryan McCabe, Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Raycroft, Mark Bell, and Darcy Tucker are all players whose contracts do not match their contributions.

There is small window to move Kubina in July. Tucker, stubborn and foolish, just as he plays, wants to stay. So he can't be moved. The others will all be examined and expect most to be gone.

No matter what, Fletcher needs to be more aggressive, more cut-throat, more bottom- line hungry, to further set the table for the incoming general manager. It isn't his nature to play that game; It's time to depart from his past.

"There's no miracle cures, no secret formulas," Fletcher said. No reason to rejoice on Trade Deadline Day.


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