Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Just Like Punch

Today's column by Damian Cox hits a new low, even for him.

The Maple Leafs just never learn their lesson.

There is no other way to assess the second coming of Cliff Fletcher.

Yup. No single other way to assess a hiring that is less than 24 hours old. No insights to be gathered, no other perspectives to be considered. What you saw at a 30 minute news conference is all that you need to know. Don't wait for any trades or any actual activities from Fletcher - it's over.

Fletcher, history tells us, left the cupboard nearly bare in 1997 because he had traded away young players (Vince Damphousse, Kenny Jonsson), made poor draft selections (Brandon Convery, Eric Fichaud, Jeff Ware) and sacrificed first-round draft picks to acquire high-priced veteran assistance.

Fletcher, history tells us, also pulled off two of the best trades in Leaf history (Gilmour and later, Sundin) landing arguably one of the best skaters to ever wear a Leaf sweater.

History tells us that Fletcher resuscitated a moribund franchise in record time.

History also tells us that, fresh off a Stanley Cup win in Calgary, Fletcher built Leaf club that went to the Conference Finals twice and was a blown high-sticking call away from a Stanley Cup Final.

History may tell us lots of things, but you won't find them in an article by Cox.

Now, in the salary cap era, he's embracing a new religion.

"Without that core of young players you're going to be in a continuing struggle," he said.

But really, that was the case before the salary cap, as well. The impatient Fletcher just didn't want to play by those rules.

Really? The Avalanche shed lots of young talent for vets to build their cup winners. Detroit too. How many players on the '94 Rangers were part of a young core? In the pre-cap big salary days, wasn't it more a case of Fletcher not having to play by those rules?

I swear, had Cox been writing for the Calgary Herald back in '89, he would have led his column on the Flames' Cup victory by bemoaning the loss of Brett Hull.

That an honest man of integrity, Ferguson, was lied to and treated unprofessionally here matters not to the mandarins of MLSE.

Too true. Bet let's also not confuse kindness, integrity and character with competence.

Put another way, there are two types of failure: failures of character and failures of talent. Clearly, Ferguson failed on the talent front and deserved to be fired. Words that somehow didn't make it into Mr. Cox's column.

Moreover, why is it that Cox is all to happy to point out Imlach's and Fletcher's propensity to deal away picks, but forgets to mention that JFJ has dealt away three first rounders and four second rounders in just fiver years as GM.

Then, unlike the gutless Pat Quinn, Ferguson stayed to face the media music and chose to blame no one. A good man, that Ferguson. He's respected in the industry and already a hot commodity.

I sure hope JFJ is a hot commodity and is a GM in this league ASAP, it's the only way the Leafs will ever get rid of Raycroft.

...Fletcher will guide the Leafs through the minefield leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, into this year's entry draft and then into the summer's free agent season.

He could do a lot of good.

Or a lot of damage.

Wow. That is some powerhouse top-drawer big-brain analysis right there folks. That's why Cox is the Star's senior hockey writer. It takes years to develop that level of insight.

Unless, that is, you consider the third option that Cox left out: Fletcher could also be just like that man of super-integrity and character that's such a hot commodity right now named JFJ.

That's right, Fletcher could take the mushy middle ground and trade some veterans for middling prospects (Klee: Suglabov) and then trade picks and prospects for middling vets (2nd, Bell: Perreault).

After nine months on the sidelines, he'll be starting from ground zero. Under Ferguson, the Leafs had been talking to teams for weeks, assessing the market for the likes of Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Bryan McCabe and lining up potential trades.

There were three teams interested in McCabe, more in Tucker. If the meddling MLSE board hadn't stonewalled the process, one or more futures deals might have been done by now.

Instead, Fletcher starts with no deals on the table, a demoralized hockey department in upheaval and 34 days to the deadline. He's going to have to roll up his sleeves and hustle, work the phone relentlessly and put in long hours to get this done effectively.

Um, the hockey staff is still there and if JFJ managed to leave his super-secret decoder ring behind, that "demoralized" hockey staff can let Mr. Fletcher know the juicy details of all these supposed wonderful rainbow coloured franchise saving trades that JFJ had allegedly set-up.

More importantly, that same staff can let Mr. Fletcher in on JFJ's master plan to get guys like Tucker, Sundin and McCabe to waive their NMC and NTCs that JFJ threw around like candy.

Also, what's with the roll-up the sleeves stuff? Has anyone suggested that Fletcher was brought in to lolly gag? I hate this type of lazy writing...the team stinks, the organization stinks, isn't it just implicit that there's a great deal of work to be done? Based on Cox's observation, are we to conclude that if JFJ was still GM, there wouldn't be a lot of work to do? That they could, uh, leave their shirt sleeves rolled down?

When it came to the possible trading of Sundin, Fletcher said: "The most important thing is to do what's right for Mats." Questioned further as to whether it wasn't more vital to do what was best for the hockey club, Fletcher said: "Mats is driving the engine here."

Well, at least we know who's in charge.

Wonder who asked those two questions and got shut-down on the follow-up? Hmmm...

Look, Fletcher's biggest job, one that goes largely unmentioned by Cox, is to get Mats to waive his NTC so that he can be moved before the deadline so the Leafs can re-stock their cupboard of picks and prospects.

I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the best way to start that process is by pulling an Alexander Haig and publicly dictating Mats' fate at an introductory media conference. Maybe that's just the way Cox rolls but Cox isn't the one trying to deal the Leafs' premier player.
Perhaps Fletcher will indeed start the logical process of moving veterans and big contracts for prospects and draft picks. There's nothing stopping him.

Moreover, that's what Fletcher now says he believes in.

Just like Punch.

Perhaps Fletcher will start wearing a snappy fedora to work.

Just like Punch.

Perhaps Fletcher will get a shiny gold helmet and ride a police motorcycle.

Just like Punch.

Or maybe Fletcher will take to pumping out 750+ word missives full of straw men, weak logic and commissive truths.

Just like Cox.


  1. Anonymous1:22 pm

    Great post. I was definitely too young to remember the first time but did Fletcher and Cox get along the first time around?

    His slanted articles so far suggest that Fletcher banged Cox's mom, ran over his dog, and gave him a bad recommendation.

    When will the ulcer kill Cox?

  2. What do you figure is the best way to make Cox go away? Stop reading his column? Mail the editor with well written, thoughtful missives about how Cox is undeserving of being a hockey columnist for Canada's arguably best paper?

    Actually screw it. It's more fun reading posts like these ripping him a new one with all his bizarre logic flaws and myopic writing style.

    Keep it up!

  3. Anonymous1:56 pm

    Wow, three teams interested in McCabe, more in Tucker? What a scoop. I wonder who Damien's top secret source for that information may have been? It must be somebody very close to the negotiations -- I wonder why somebody would suddenly spill that info to Cox?

    On a completely and totally unrelated note, I wonder why Damien has suddenly decided that Ferguson is a good man and wants to make sure everyone knows he's a "hot commodity".

  4. Did you mean Punch as in "Punch and Judy" show? :) I'm sure that's how the guy feels...or maybe that'd be more JFJ? I don't know

  5. I can't remember the last time I agreed with a Cox article. And the point he missed is that Fletcher will not be rebuilding the Leafs. He is really a caretaker that will lay the foundation for the next President/GM. That is how it is unlike the return of Imlach.

  6. Anonymous10:59 am

    I love this post. I read that article, and a lot of those things crossed my mind.

    Cox seems to interpret it as a bad thing that Fletcher may have adapted his thinking for the new NHL. Draft smaft - so what? Like you note, in those days, it really was possible to buy whatever you wanted.

    And if the choice is between a known, star veteran, and an unknown prospect, this is a no-brainer decision for me: you take the known quanity every single time. It's risk analysis. That isn't to say that you ignore drafting, but there is no shame in using all the tools at your disposal, and in those days, that was buying whatever you needed.

    I am also mystified that Cox drew comparisons between Imlach and Fletcher. Is he saying that these men...are the same? That Fletcher is doomed to pull off the identical moves that Imlach did, just because he was once re-hired and subsequently set the Leafs back? Absurd.

    The entire article is absolutely lazy writing. Ferguson is honest, a man of integrity - says who? These deals on the table - with what teams? For what players? Without any backup you can say Ferguson was working on a deal to land Lecavalier, right?

    The bow on the package was his hedging conclusion. Fletcher can do a lot of good - or a lot of damage. Wow, how thought-provoking. Take a position, numbnuts. No matter what happens, Cox will be able to allude to what he wrote months ago, smugly suggesting he knew it all along.

    This...bald man has nothing to say.