Let's say that between now and the trade deadline the Leafs trade Bryan McCabe, Ed Belfour, Ken Klee, Aki Berg, Jason Allison and Nik Antropov, and get only one or two roster players in return. Quite apart from the future benefit, I don't even think it would significantly hurt their chances at making the playoffs. Those chances are already in excruciating pain, remember, and trading Belfour for a few rolls of tape would instantly improve the Leafs' goaltending situation. You can't tell me that subbing in Johnny Pohl or Ben Ondrus or Mariusz Czerkawski for one or both of Allison and Antropov would make a world of difference up front, and on defense… well, it would be a struggle. Not much of a change there.
They would have an outside chance at the post-season, which is what they have now. Pat Quinn coached a less talented team than would survive that purge to within three wins of the 1999 Stanley Cup final. I'm sure it would be demoralizing for the guys who remained, but, well, tough. Maybe the aforementioned roster players or the younger replacements can light a fire under them.
The "anything can happen" argument works both ways, too. If the playoffs had started tonight you could reasonably expect the Flyers to dispatch Buffalo, but elsewhere the Habs would play a totally unproven Carolina team, the Sens would play the defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Czech National Rangers would take on Martin Brodeur and his Devils. It's mighty tough to pick a favourite out of those, especially if Toronto somehow managed to draw Ottawa in the first round. The Leafs have underachieved horribly for much of this season. If John Ferguson keeps this team together and they simultaneously get healthy and find their stride, they might pull off a round or two. Hell, they might go to the final. Stranger things have happened.
So what should Ferguson do?
He should tear the goddamn thing down, that's what. The playoffs are a crapshoot. GMs have to make a determination as to how their dice are weighted. As much as most teams have a real shot at the playoffs or at a decent playoff run, the Leafs' dice are weighted more against them than at any time in the Pat Quinn era. And yet, Ferguson tells the Star: "We're not ready to concede anything."
Sigh. No one's asking you to concede anything, buddy. They're only asking you to sell every pending unrestricted free agent you have to the highest bidder. 11th place teams should only stand pat or beef up at the deadline if they desperately need to get into the playoffs, which the Leafs clearly do not — one year of extra-early golf won't hurt this franchise, and they're in great position to get exactly that anyway. Liquidating what few valuable assets the Leafs do have, on the other hand, could give the team's future a considerable boost. As would a new coach, which had bloody well better be in MLSE's summer plans. This really is a no-brainer.
Mr Ferguson, tear down this team.
(Cross-posted to Tart Cider.)
(This isn't exactly the ideal theme for my first post on a blog that presupposes a "Battle" of Ontario, but hey. My team will be life and death to make the playoffs tomorrow morning, but at least it won't be the Ottawa Senators. Thanks to Jay for the invite.)