Editor's Note: Newcomer 1967ers does a good job of tantalising us with hints of a bright past and terrify us with blunt applications of a period in the Leafs' history that has eerie parallels with the present.
Was thinking over the past few days how this version of a Fletcher rebuild compares to the one he undertook the first time around. Realized that there are also some alarming comparisons to the 'rebuild' that gave us the 1980's, but we'll touch on that later.
In 1991, Cliff arrived on the scene to a team that had finished 2nd last overall and had been completely gutted by Floyd Smith in a desperate attempt not to have been the GM who traded away Eric Lindros (yet another post for another day).
The first major thing he did was trade the best offensive player we had (Damphousse), along with a young defenseman (Richardson) and our starting goaltender (Ing), for an injured former starter who was rumoured to have drug problems (Fuhr) and a fading offensive star (Anderson). I thought this was a horrific move.
And then I saw Grant Fuhr play.
If you go back and look at Fuhr's numbers in Toronto, they don't look like a heck of a lot, but the guy was simply unreal. It may just be the comparison to Peter Ing, but I remember a game in St. Louis where Brett Hull was getting open look after open look, and Fuhr was just stoning him. This sort of thing just didn't happen with the Leafs.
Approaching mid-season, there was talk of a rumour sending Gary Leeman to Calgary for Doug Gilmour, who was having a contract dispute. There had been Gilmour/Leeman talk before, and I couldn't believe that Risebrough couldn't see that if Fletcher had wanted Leeman before, and was trying to get rid of him now that he had him, something might be up. All the same, I didn't like Gilmour from his St. Louis days and he was supposed to be fading a bit. I didn't want this deal either.
Nonetheless, the deal happened (and yes, we knew it was the steal of a lifetime the second we heard it) and the rest was history.
With all that Gilmour did, it's easy to forget that the arrival of Macoun and Nattress was every bit as big. All of a sudden, the Leafs had a defense pairing that had a clue what to do. They would come out on the ice and all of a sudden, the shenanigans would just end. Never saw anything like it before.
The point of this, I guess, is that Fletcher's moves don't always look great up front, but a lot of them are done with an eye towards another move later. Also - the team that starts the season will most likely not be the team that finishes it. So given that the Leafs have about a bazillion defensemen and no forwards, expect something to happen, even if it takes until January.
Now - there are also some nasty parallels with the return of Punch Imlach in 1979 (the timeline isn't a dead match, but the sequence is roughly similar):
- a former GM who'd had great success returns to the team 10 years later. He is old now, and people aren't sure how he'll do with today's game and players
- he has a mandate to rebuild the team, by force if necessary
- he immediately sets out to break a clique of players surrounding the captain, starts by moving the captain's closest friends out of town for questionable returns
- fires the coach
- eventually gets the captain to waive a no-trade clause and move on (OK, so it's not a dead match)
- trades away the #2 defenseman for not that much
- brings back the former starting goaltender in a lesser role
OK. The last few are a stretch and some of the Sittler/Turnbull/Palmateer moves might have been post-Imlach, I can't recall.
But you can't suggest one historical parallel without the other....