Yesterday was US thanksgiving. While it is not celebrated here in Canada it does allow us (if we allow it to) all a time to reflect and think, just a little bit about what we have to give thanks for. The brilliant folks over at Kuklas Korner has asked folks to share with them on Monday their favorite hockey memories as a tribute to hockey by writing something positive about hockey. This is not by column for that, however I do have that spirit in mind when I write this.
Last January, nearly 11 months ago rumors (you can’t imagine that in this town) where swirling that the current Leaf GM John Ferguson Jr. (JFJ) was going to be fired from his post as head of the Leafs. Then, almost suddenly on January 22nd, Richard Peddie announced to the world that he had relived Ferguson of his duties and that Cliff Fletcher would run the franchise form a hockey perspective until a full time replacement was found. You can watch the infamous lip moving press conference here:
What Cliff took over at that time was a complete disaster. The team was a mess, the roster a joke, the performance even worse. The franchise was the laughing stock of the league. Did Cliff end all of that? No he did not. Did he at the very least try to stop the runaway ship? Yes he did. Did he build the basis of a stanley cup champion? No he did not. Was he supposed to ? No he wasn’t. His goal was to do a lot of the analysis and some of the lifting so that whomever took over on a full time basis wouldn’t be starting at step 1. That he has done. Cliff Fletcher, on two separate occasions joined a franchise in dire need of guidance, of stability and both times he fulfilled his mandate. As a kid growing up, I recall being taught that the ultimate judge of the performance of a person is whether they leave a place in better shape then that in which they found it. Cliff Fletcher (if he is actually leaving) leaves this stint as GM in much better shape then when he found it. He has saved some money, he has lowered the average age of the players and he has at least 1 very good prospect in Luke Schenn. He tried to do more but had his hands tied by the horrific work of JFJ with respect to NTC’s.
For anyone (Damien) to say otherwise is utter bullshit. The guy was hired to do a job and he did it to the best of his ability. He wasn’t hired to take things to the end. He was hired to stop the bleeding and start to restore some of the dignity. People (Damien) said he blew draft picks on certain acquisitions fail to admit that he had to ice a team this year. Obviously there was a huge problem in the locker-room. He tried to eradicate those who caused the problems. That comes at a cost. The Leafs couldn’t go from a franchise that spent the maximum allowed under the cap to a team at the floor, that just isn’t feasible. He has built a team that should be respectable. Does that mean they are going to win every night? No, it doesn’t. Have the leafs, their management or their fans been embarrassed by anything he has done since he took over? Nope. Can you say the same thing about his predecessor? Nope. Did he do everything to the point of escaping all criticism? No, he is human I am sure if asked he would admit there are things he wished he could do over. He brought in a very good coach, some good young talent and got rid of a lot of problems. Burke is in a better spot tomorrow then if JFJ were still at the helm. He has a better coach and a better roster, it just doesn’t get any simpler.
So, on this Friday after Thanksgiving we Leaf Fans should be thankful for Cliff Fletcher who didn’t need this job, for taking it, for improving our lot and starting the long road back to respectability for us. We are better off then when you got here and for that we are thankful. So, from this Maple Leaf fan anyway, thanks Cliff!