NAPLES, Fla. -- So what if the NHL trade deadline came and went next Tuesday and the Maple Leafs did nothing? Or at least nothing major?
Take a deep breath, Leafs Nation, and relax.
It is probably unlikely but it still is a possibility.
Remember, Mats Sundin has a no-trade clause. Tomas Kaberle also has one and has said he will not waive it. Darcy Tucker, Pavel Kubina and Bryan McCabe have either no-trade or no-movement clauses and big-ticket contracts.
"Whatever happens over the next week is just the start," interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said of the task of rebuilding the team. "I hope when my replacement comes in we will have the framework to help move on. But I'm only going to do a deal (this week) if I feel it can help the team long term. Doing nothing is a lot better than doing something you shouldn't do, just to make a deal.
"I am not doing anything that could jeopardize the future of this hockey club."
All of which makes perfect sense. It's one thing to move a player and get a return that better positions you for the future, but to move a body and take another step backward without help waiting in the wings, well, it doesn't make sense.
With the way the NHL is these days, you don't necessarily have to tear it right down to the fixtures to correct what is wrong.
In the case of the Leafs, clearly bodies must go, cap space must be made, but they also have the potential to get a good draft pick on their own this June. And that is the key, to somehow find a way to stay in the lottery hunt without "tanking."
"The system today is designed to make it difficult to remain on top for very long and you shouldn't remain on the bottom very long, either," Fletcher said. "The difference between us and a team solidly entrenched in a playoff spot is five wins ... we want to improve to the point that we can compete with the top teams in the league night in, night out. That's our goal."
The question is how difficult is it to improve by those five wins and be competitive for a long while?
The big problem for Fletcher is that to make a splash he needs one or two of his players to waive their no-trade clauses. One general manager said yesterday that Fletcher is in tough because he doesn't know what Sundin will say if asked. Right now, he doesn't have a deal to present Sundin with to get that answer. Or so it seems.
Teams are keen to know whether a Sundin deal is possible. The likes of Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal are in the market for a top-six forward, an impact player, and the options are limited with Sundin being a major domino that has to fall one way or the other.
The Leafs no doubt could make a deal involving Kaberle, though he may be an asset they would prefer to keep given his age, talent and contract status. But he and his agent have been emphatic he will not waive his no-trade clause.
Fletcher did admit yesterday there has been discussion about other roster players, but he didn't look like a guy who was being overwhelmed by the offers. So maybe Fletcher will be able to perform some magic prior to the deadline next Tuesday.
But the process of repositioning the Leafs really might be something that plays out in several different acts -- at the deadline, with buyouts in June, and off-season moves.
WHAT ARE THEY?
So a player has a no-trade clause, is playing on a mediocre or worse team and refuses to waive it. What does that make him? Is he a guy who doesn't care about winning, who likes long summers and golf, who is comfortable and uninspired? Or is he a guy who has made a lifestyle decision in terms of where he wants to live, likes the organization for which he plays and perhaps sees his role as being unfinished business and wants to be part of helping to turn around the franchise?
In the case of a Mats Sundin or a Rob Blake, as unrestricted free agents they always can return to their team in the summer, which changes the dynamic a little. But what about a Tomas Kaberle, with three years left on his deal? Is it his obligation to move for assets just because? Don't think so.
The idea to streamline and make goaltending equipment proportionate to the goaltender is a good one. It's a tired issue, the great debate about the size of goaltending equipment, but if the league is going to increase scoring and at the very least allow for scoring chances to come from different areas on the ice, then something has to be done.
The idea of Manny Legace, as good as he is, at 5-foot-9 wearing the same length pad as Alex Auld, at 6-foot-5, is somewhat preposterous.
It appear the NHLPA is onside with addressing the issue, as long as goaltenders are involved and protection isn't compromised.
That isn't the goal here, to make the goalie's job tougher or more dangerous. The goal is to bring a little common sense back to the proceedings and to put some teeth into the rules to allow for suspensions for guys who, basically, cheat.
THIS AND THAT
The idea has been kicked around, but without widespread approval, of having the GMs meetings at the same time as the trade deadline to make it a major event, much the way baseball does with its winter meetings. Now, there would be an expense involved in teams having to travel more staff, but it would certainly create a buzz. Now, deadline day is huge in Canada already, but it would undoubtedly focus more attention south of the border, too.