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Ulmer Catches Up With Fletcher

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Cliff Fletcher sees no conflict.

Of course the Leafs’ interim General Manager wants the Maple Leafs to win.

The future, he insists, is well-served by good play and the Leafs have been delivering wins in recent games.

The Leafs have won three of four. They have won five of six on the road. The number of variables is incalculable but the Maple Leafs would need to win something like nine of their final 10 games to advance to the post-season.

The virtue of finishing as close to the bottom as possible has been done to death on the talk-show and water cooler circuit. The thinking is, the higher the Leafs draft, the faster they can retool through the entry draft, especially with the gifted Steven Stamkos, a Leafs fan, positioned as the likely first pick.

But Fletcher who will either preside over the draft or hand over the reins to a new GM by then, doesn’t see the draft as a panacea.

 “The draft will take care of itself,” Fletcher said. “Look at last year. The team that finished last, (Philadelphia) had the highest probability and that was 25 per cent. Three more spaces down, the odds are 14.2 per cent.”

The first overall in 2007 went to the Chicago Blackhawks, who sat four spaces from the top entered the draft with an 8.1 per cent probability of snaring the first overall. The next three teams with the best odds, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Los Angeles, followed the Blackhawks.

As for the evaluation of this year’s team, Fletcher said he listened carefully to what coach Paul Maurice said of the club when the two first sat down.

“One thing Paul told me when I got here (Jan. 22) was the team had not played with a full defence. “It wasn’t too long after that that the team began playing well.”

The return of Bryan McCabe from a hand injury Feb. 7 solidified the defence and Vesa Toskala, a starter for 23 straight games, has given the Leafs premier netminding.

“In this, the era of the salary cap, every team has holes,” said Fletcher, “but when you have excellent goaltending, you can still be in every game. I had a chance to see him a lot in Phoenix and he has developed into one of the top goalies in the game. Fergy made a heck of a deal in bringing him here.”

Fletcher said he has been has been impressed by Jiri Tlusty “he went into Philly which isn’t an easy place to play and stood up for himself. There’s no doubt in my mind he will be a big piece of this team.” He liked Anton Stralman’s skating but said he needed to be stronger.”

Mostly, Fletcher stressed one theme. Winning is good. It allows you to see your players truly tested and, not incidentally, it increases the value of the players you have prior to an off-season makeover.

“The better your team performs, the fewer tough decisions you have to make because you’ve seen them in really competitive situations. It gives you a lot better feel for what you are going to see in the future.”
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