It's like '92 all over again

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

For Cliff Fletcher, it was just like old times on Sunday morning, a rinkside seat for a multi-player Maple Leafs trade with the Calgary Flames to try and reverse his team's course from the rocky shoals.

"I really enjoyed this process," said Fletcher, now senior advisor to Brian Burke and holding that job in part because his Hall of Fame career was marked by the record 10-man blockbuster with the Flames 18 years and one month earlier. "I enjoyed watching Brian Burke, Dave Nonis and Dave Poulin working hard and going through the details. Credit to Brian and (Flames' GM) Darryl Sutter for being able to do this."

Some similarities from '92 are there, an impact player in Dion Phaneuf, who could use a fresh start in Toronto, along with two defencemen and size, while the losing Leafs send west a variety of players who might find their true calling with a new team.

GILMOUR'S TAKE

When the J-S Giguere deal with Anaheim was completed, the total players that changed addresses matched Fletcher's deal that brought in Doug Gilmour, Kent Manderville, defencemen Ric Nattress, Jamie Macoun and goalie Rick Wamsley for Gary Leeman, Craig Berube, defencemen Michel Petit, Alex Godynyuk and goalie Jeff Reese.

"Back then, guys like Macoun and Nattress were about to have their contracts expire," Gilmour told QMI Agency, prior to his OHL Kingston Frontenacs playing the Niagara Ice Dogs. "I guess that was the same situation with Toronto and guys like (Matt) Stajan."

Fletcher can only hope Phaneuf and the rest work out as well as '92, when the Leafs went from missing the playoffs to within one game of the Stanley Cup final 16 months later. But 2010 is a much different NHL landscape. Big-dollar contracts and expansion to 30 teams has meant that clubs rarely have the depth to stand losing five to 10 players at once.

"Back before the salary cap, you could just make a hockey deal," Fletcher said. "Now you're talking cap hits and it compounds your inability to make any big trade."

To this day, Fletcher remains modest about the coup he engineered at the expense of then-Flames GM Doug Risebrough, though the latter did go on and have strong years with Calgary and the Minnesota Wild.

"You have to remember I was only a few months removed from being GM of Calgary and I knew a lot about their main players," Fletcher said of moving to the Leafs two years after winning the Cup. "I had knowledge of what Doug could bring to a game."

Risebrough, meantime, was anxious to make a splash to escape Fletcher's shadow, while ex-Leafs GM Gerry McNamara, whom Fletcher had hired as a Flames scout, advocated getting back some of the talented young Leafs he had drafted in the 1980s.

All except the retiring Nattress would impact the Leafs' back-to-back trips to the conference final within the next three years. The five new Flames helped that team to a degree, but Calgary was not a force as the 1990s wore on.

"Like then, we're looking down the road now," Fletcher said. "Dion is a former first-rounder, and our management group is trying to build a (tough) reputation for our team in the future. Unfortunately, I don't think there's a fast track."

Burke knows very well he's following a difficult act in Toronto where multi-player deals are concerns.

"It looked like a team picture, the guys that Cliff moved some days," Burke said. "These kinds of trades aren't extinct, but they're endangered.

It's nice to pull one off."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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