Far be it from us to conflate professional sports with Bill Shakespeare—but the Toronto Maple Leafs’ actions before, during and after Tuesday’s NHL trade deadline recall Macbeth’s famous words: full of sound and fury, yet ultimately signifying nothing. Charges of heresy will be duly acknowledged.
In the end, the promised blow-up never materialized. None of the five big-money, no-trade-clause-holding players could be moved. Pavel Kubina was apparently ready to be shipped off (to San Jose, if reports are accurate), but after the Leafs mauled the Ottawa Senators on Monday he reneged. (Bryan McCabe was apparently willing to waive his; alas, no one wanted him.) Mats Sundin, meanwhile, decided after much soul-searching that he didn’t want to be a rental player, and that like any good captain he’d go down with the ship. (The subsequent reaction—Sundin being accused of selfishness, of embracing mediocrity, of failing his ultimate leadership test—has been nothing if not predictable…not to mention ironic, since we live in an era in which professional athletes are constantly, and rightly, castigated for being egomaniacal jerks. We’ve belaboured this point already, but Sundin can’t win in this city—both literally and metaphorically.) In the end (and, again, with apologies to the Bard), it was all much ado about nothing.
Or very little, anyway: even with his hands tied, Cliff Fletcher managed to parlay a big, lumbering defenceman (Hal Gill) and a couple fringe players (Chad Kilger and Wade Belak) into four draft picks. They weren’t spectacular moves (and there’s obviously no guarantee they’ll ever pan out) but they’re at least steps in the right direction; put slightly different, anything would’ve been better than nothing. Fletcher also promised that next year’s team will bare scant resemblance to the one that’s currently wallowing near the bottom of the NHL standings. Call us blind optimists, but for the first time in years it feels as though Toronto has a general manager with a semblance of a clue—someone who won’t be a lapdog for the team’s corporate interests. It’s a welcome respite, no matter how the rest of this year plays out.
For now, the Leafs are treading water—much like they were last season, when deadline inertia cost them a playoff berth. Yet, after beating Florida 4-3 in a shootout yesterday night, the Leafs are only six points out. Making the playoffs, unfathomable a few weeks ago, is slowly becoming a possibility no matter what certain columnists say. Some people would suggest that sneaking into the playoffs would be counterproductive on the grounds that it’d worsen the team’s drafting position come June—but we respectfully disagree. A playoff appearance, no matter how brief, would give the team’s younger players invaluable experience which would jumpstart the eventual rebuilding process. It’d also send a great, big “eff-you” to the team’s many detractors; speaking as lifelong, die-hard fans, the latter would be particularly satisfying.
The Leafs have seventeen games remaining—seventeen games to leapfrog four other teams, including a surging Buffalo Sabres. It’s a longshot at best…and having said that (and to extend our theatrical analogy even further), there’re still plenty of twists and turns to follow. We’ll be waiting with bated breath for what happens next.
Photo by Vincent Ma from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.