The State of Leafs Nation
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The State of Leafs Nation

2007_06_25mapleleafs.jpgAs any hockey fan in Toronto already knows, the NHL draft took place this weekend and featured John Ferguson Jr. trading for a veteran goalie for the second straight year. The newly acquired Vesa Toskala, traded from San Jose, should provide a more stable presence in the net than Andrew Raycroft, and is projected to become the starting netminder.
While a quality goalie was obviously a necessity for the Leafs, the fact that they gave up first and second round picks from this year’s draft and a fourth-rounder from 2009 was yet another move by Ferguson that brought out the contradictions of his words and actions. For all that he talks about building a system from the ground up through quality scouting, drafts and prospects, it was the second year in a row that he sold out the future for the present.
At the same time last year, Ferguson traded away goaltending prospect Tuuka Rask for Raycroft. The acquisition of Voskala, along with forward Mark Bell, is pretty much an acknowledgment that the Raycroft trade hasn’t exactly work out as the team had hoped. Considering Raycroft had to be pulled in the final game of the season with the playoffs on the line, he obviously wasn’t the answer Ferguson wanted.
It’s pretty easy to criticize Ferguson. You could probably turn to sports radio right now and hear yet another person calling for the head of the beleaguered Leafs GM. After two straight years of ninth place finishes and some poor free agent signings, he is a hard man to defend. Part of the problem is that Ferguson has been working under one year contracts. As most hockey prospects take years to develop, it’s hard for Ferguson to build a solid group of young players when he knows that he must also compile a team that can compete and win games now. If he had the guarantee long-term stability that is necessary when building up a team from the draft, there might not be such a blatant difference between what he says and what he does.
With free-agency just a week away, expect lots of rumours to be swirling about who will sign where, as well as possible trades to dump salary. After trading for Toskala and Bell, the Leafs have over $40 million locked away in salaries for next year. The salary cap has risen to around $48 million for the 2007-8 season, leaving many teams with the money to go after Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Ryan Smyth, Sheldon Souray and Scott Gomez.
Our advice to Ferguson, not that it’ll reach his ears, is this: anyone can spend, but try to spend wisely. Anyone can throw a huge wad of money at players and dole out long-term contracts, but those who do it best use free agency as a means of filling the gaps, not just getting a big name to please the fan base. Do the Leafs need Gomez, a centre who racks up assists but is small and does little scoring himself? That’s pretty much what you’re getting out of Kyle Wellwood for a much cheaper price. Yes, your job is on the line again, but you also must act with some of that hockey acumen you supposedly have.
Photo by G&#169H from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.