Two Tracks

We are just over a day away from the beginning of the season so it's time to make predictions for the upcoming season. Throughout the day we'll have a number of previews and now stepping up to the plate is the Barilkosphere's elder statesman and designated cool head MF37 from Bitter Leaf Fan.

No predictions and low expectations. That pretty much sums up my take on the upcoming Leaf season.

This is a year where, with the exception of Nikolai Kulemin and Ron Wilson, the most intriguing story lines will occur away from the ice at the ACC: the development of Schenn and Pogge; the backroom deals struck to bring in more picks and prospects; the on-going (never ending) search for a President and GM; the build-up to the trade deadline; prepping for the 2009 draft; the ongoing efforts to untie JFJ's Gordian knot; and hopefully avoiding the thin (thin!) 2009 UFA pool.

In place of a guess at a win loss record or what odds the Leafs might have of making the post-season, I offer this instead...

What We Can Learn from Cliff Fletcher

The first thing most people remember about Cliff Fletcher’s original tenure with the Leafs: blockbuster trades.

This is the GM that brought the Leafs Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin; two trades that, in an ideal world, would buy this GM all sorts of latitude from the media, stakeholders and the fans.

This being Toronto, his legendary work is often brought into question by two simple words: "draft schmaft" (proving the lasting value of mnemonics).

The next thing fans are likely to recall is Fletcher dismantling the team. As then-owner Steve Stavros’ grocery empire came crumbling down it necessitated a series of salary dumps and resulted in one of the more recent dark periods of Leaf history (who was a worse coach, Mike Murphy or Paul Maurice? Discuss).

Between the big trades and the eventual decline of this club, Fletcher demonstrated not just a keen understanding of how to build a team, but how to evaluate one.

Fletcher is the first GM I can recall who looked at his team in ten game increments and openly talked to the media about using ten game trends to identify strengths, weaknesses and patterns in his team's play. (This could very well be more a function of having a string of horrible front office staff in Toronto than it was Fletcher bringing something new to the game, the fans and the media. For all I know, Cecil Hart and the Habs were doing this with The Gazette and La Presse back in Chelios' rookie season in 1937).

Breaking the Pain Down into Ten Game Segments

Fletcher's approach back in the day is something we fans could learn from and need to apply to the coming season.

This year the focus should be on player development and team trends over ten to 20 game increments, not on who blew coverage on the PK, which player kicked a sock in anger and how to best quantify the greed of MLSE and the alleged concomitant stupidity of Leaf fans.

Looking at how the Leafs have performed since the lock-out, we fans can do ten games in our sleep. It's also a safe way to approach a year that is likely to set some sort of record for media hysterics.

Mittenstringers, Mouth Breathers and One-Fingered Typists

Despite being covered by one of the largest media corps in Canada, one certainty for the coming season is that we fans will be fed a steady diet of little more than who won, who scored, and who's to blame. The nutritional equivalent of a cheeseburger-in-a-can, quick, easy, and entirely beside the point.

Look for the mittenstringers to second guess every Leaf transaction and to contradict themselves over what's "best" for the team and the players while neglecting to notice that the bulk of the roster is made up of players for the times rather than players for all time. Let's face it, many of these skaters won’t even be wearing the beautiful blue and white leaf on their chest come March.

Considering the transitional nature of the roster, instead of running these players out of town or setting up effigies, I suggest that the Barilkosphere lead the way in looking at the bigger picture.

How much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

In public polling (or "research" as those in the trade like to call it, don’t know when it happened but it seems pollster has become a bad word) one of the most fundamental questions one can ask it the "right track/wrong track" question. And it’s a question we should likely be asking every ten games leading up to the trade deadline. Is this team on the right track or the wrong track? Are management’s player personnel decisions on the right track or the wrong track? Are Wilson's systems on the right track or wrong track? Is Pogge's development on the right track (65 starts) or the wrong track (benched for Clemmensen in the playoffs)? Are the Leafs acquiring picks and prospects (right track) or dealing second round picks for 15 games of Yanic Perreault (wrong track)?

Let's face it, it really doesn’t matter if the Leafs win 14 or 40 games this year. What matters is how management reacts to the results in the wins and losses column. Building a team that can eventually take a serious run at and challenge for the Cup has to be, must be, at the root of every decision management makes.

Right track or wrong track?

A simple question to keep top of mind for the upcoming season.

A simple question that will hopefully distract us from countless third period melt-downs, rookie errors, and a media contingent that takes obscene delight in the failures of the Leafs and questioning the loyalty of Leaf fans.

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