The match has been struck by Cliff Fletcher as he makes his first moves in blowing up the current state of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The club said goodbye to forwards Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood, as well as incumbent goaltender Andrew Raycroft. It's doubtful the Silver Fox is done there.
Also potential candidates to be wearing different sweaters in October, as I have indicated earlier, are Jason Blake, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Pavel Kubina, and maybe even Ian White.
In the spirit of the youth movement, I believe—and somewhat hope—that Fletcher will re-sign centre Dominic Moore, even if he lets him get to July 1 and become unrestricted free agent.
Moore did all the little things right on a team that seemed intent on ignoring such minuscule details. Mark Bell should also be given another shot in blue and white, simply due to the fact that his first season was shortened by injury and suspension.
Pavel Kubina is an interesting conversation topic. On one hand, he is a potential captain. On the other hand, Kubina may end up being the odd man out.
With Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe locked into no-trade clauses and unwilling to waive them, Fletcher's hand may be forced to deal the veteran defenseman for a high draft pick or a young forward, simply because he won't have any other options.
I am of the opinion that Kubina should be kept, because he played tremendously down the stretch when given top-two minutes and increased power-play time.
Also, it has been noted by media insiders that the club deeply respects his leadership qualities and intense passion to win. If Kubina and McCabe were on the same contractual terms, Kubina would remain a Leaf and McCabe would be shipped out in a heartbeat. But that is not the case and we will have to wait until later into the summer to see how Fletcher decides to sort out this mess.
The Leafs will be minor players in the free agency market this summer, with about $16 million to spend on approximately five roster spots, depending on what other moves are made.
They may opt to go with some young Marlie talent that will cost them under a million dollars per player and increase the amount they can spend on middle-aged (under 30) free agents.
Here are some suggestions on who the Leafs can and should try to target when the clock strikes noon on Canada Day:
Sean Avery, RW
Most observers may not like the suggestion, due to Avery's public disdain for the Canadian hockey media. I was once of the mind that Avery wouldn't even want to play here, and that may still be true.
However, the facts are simple. The guy can score, fight, hit, and give his team an edge every night. There is no player in the league that other players hate to play against more than Avery (see Marty Brodeur).
The Rangers' record with him in the lineup over the past two seasons is significantly better than the record without him. He is an intense competitor who will give the Leafs a little bit of sandpaper that they have sorely lacked over the last few seasons.
Ryan Malone, RW
He's going to be 29 next season, and based on his performance in the playoffs, the guy has incredible heart and determination. He scored almost 30 goals this season—granted he was playing with Evgeni Malkin—but he goes to the net hard and knows how to find scoring situations.
Malone is another guy who plays physical every shift, and isn't afraid to drop the gloves. He appears to be a younger version of Gary Roberts.
Gary Roberts, LW
I know I said under-30 talent—but the Leafs are going to be without a captain and true leader next season, and I think Roberts will fill that role admirably if signed.
There are rumours that he would take about $1 million per year for one to two seasons (he won't last longer than that anyway) to come back to Toronto. While only playing on the third or fourth lines, he will be a veteran presence in the dressing room who would be able to train a future captain, such as Matt Stajan or Alex Steen.
Roberts also showed that he can still score goals, while playing on Pittsburgh's fourth line with Georges Laraque.
Those are my suggestions, but I'm turning it over to you. Who do you think the Leafs should keep? Who should they rid themselves of (please try to remain realistic).
Finally, Leafs fans need to accept the fact that this team is going to be flat-out no good next season. Unless Fletcher is able to make at least two miraculous trades, they are going to miss the playoffs for the fourth season in a row.
They can thank the Muskoka Five for that, by deciding to stick around and not allow the team to get better. Now the likes of Sundin and Tucker are walking away with more money in their pockets and the Leafs are stuck in the cold with nothing in the cupboard.
Leafs fans should not be afraid to express extreme disappointment with both the players for lack of effort and desire in previous years, and in management for being so lackadaisical and allowing a country club environment.
Change is coming in Toronto, but it will be a while yet before the results will bear success. Your thoughts and comments are, as always, encouraged.
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