Fletcher: No tanks

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher has a few simple rules for running the Maple Leafs, in this, his second turn at the wheel.

They are: Don't trade for anyone over 30, unless the deal is ridiculously good (and that's probably not going to happen because Gord Stellick is in radio now); Don't get too excited if his young team is playing .500 hockey, or if it looks terrible; And the next time someone brings up the term "tank job," call security and have that person forcibly removed.

For sure, Fletcher is amazed there are still people out there who believe that his team would best be served by trying to lose this season -- the idea being that the lower the club finishes in the standings, the better the chance it has of picking first overall in next June's draft and selecting Oshawa Generals sniper John Tavares.

But forget the moral implications of tanking. Fletcher said it's wrong to consider such a move because it would destroy the development of the young players the Leafs now have.

"When you put 20 professional athletes out on the playing surface, well, they have pride. They get paid to produce results, they want to win. It's a natural instinct for all athletes," Fletcher said. "You have to deal in practicalities. I think if we could develop a core of young players here that get better and better, that's the best-case scenario for the future.

Fletcher has taken a "Damn the torpedoes" approach to the season. He wants his young team to win at all costs and let the chips fall where they may in terms of draft position.

Fletcher believes you don't need an exceptionally high draft pick to get a player of quality -- pointing to the New Jersey Devils as a team that recently has done quite well with fairly low picks.

"They picked Zach Parise (17th). He was one of the better players to come out of that year's (2003) draft," he said. "And picking Travis Zajac 20th (2004) was a great move."

Fletcher is justifiably proud with most of the moves he's made since returning to the organization in January.

Swapping Bryan McCabe for Mike Van Ryn has worked out well. Niklas Hagman was an inspired free-agent signing. Drafting Luke Schenn appears to have been a good thing, as was replacing Paul Maurice with Ron Wilson. Of course, Ryan Hollweg jerseys aren't flying off the shelves at Centre Sports ... yet.

But, the one move Fletcher believes has been his best so far was grabbing the diminutive Belarusian Mikhail Grabovski.

PICKING UP STEAM

Fletcher sent someone named Greg Pateryn and Toronto's second-round pick in 2010 to Montreal for Grabovski. And though the East German-born centre started the season agonizingly slow, collecting zero points in his first seven games (and sparking a "Bring back Greg Pateryn" campaign in the Buffery household), he has been heating up of late.

He has collected seven points in his last six games, including two goals and an assist in last night's 5-4 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, and has been demonstrating above-average offensive skills.

Not to put any added pressure on the little guy, which is unlikely given that he can hardly speak English, but Fletcher believes the 24-year-old has a chance to be a standout in the NHL.

"We really liked him," Fletcher said. "Getting a good, young player off another team is so difficult because they're the ones on entry-level contracts that help balance out teams signing free agents. We were very fortunate to be able to make that trade."


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