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Ulmer: What Do Leafs Fans Cheer For

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
I like a vigil as much as the next camper but there is a point in every one when you need to ask yourself what you are hoping for.

The Leafs sit 12th in the Eastern Conference, six points out of eighth place, which means a little. They are fighting with five other teams for that solitary spot, which means a lot.

Now, there is good news. The Leafs have gone 7-3 over their last 10 games and sit with 28 wins in 65 games which, in the unique logic of the NHL, means they are .500.

The team’s recent surge of solid play would be more encouraging were it not, as interim-GM Cliff Fletcher pointed out at the trade deadline, so achingly familiar to last year’s effort that fell one point short.

There will be some flip-flopping in the standings, but consider the teams sitting between the Leafs and the Promised Land set in stone. Indulge me.

Now, think about who the Leafs have to beat out.

Philadelphia (69 points): Loads of talent up front and now better with Vinnie Prospal who can hold fort until return of Joffrey Lupul and Mike Richards in mid-March.

New York Islanders (67 points): Think gruel here. Did nothing but ditch Chris Simon at the deadline. Leafs are better.

Washington Capitals (66 points): Addition of Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke, will lift Caps.

Florida Panthers (64 points): Slightly inferior to Leafs with one fewer point thanks to Toronto’s shootout win. Neck and neck.

Atlanta (62 points):
Landed two top nine forwards in exchange for Marian Hossa, a guy who was leaving anyway. Might be better now that cloud of his impending trade has lifted.

Is a playoff spot possible? Sure.

Probable? Nope.

Likely? Well now, who am I to say?

And so I come to you with a counter-offer.

It is a point of fact that the Maple Leafs produce a fierce mix of angst and loyalty in their fans.  And when Cliff Fletcher promises sweeping changes and acres of cap room, come the summer, I take him at his word.

Friends, this is a time for healing and looking forward to the draft.

Why stop your scouting at Drew Doughty and Steven Stamkos. There is plenty to like in this year’s draft which as projected is the deepest in years. Why not learn about Kyle Beach, Alex Pieterangelo and Zach Bogosian. It’s still more fun than a lockout.

The buyout question is simple. As long as the player is over 26, the buyout is two thirds of the remaining value of the contract over twice the remaining length of the contract. The actual impact varies based on the actual salary as opposed to averaged salary. I understand it backwards and forwards of course but this is supposed to be light reading.

The point is: what would you do, Bubba? Can the Leafs eat Jason Blake’s contract and retain enough cap space to make a move. Is Pavel Kubina gone? His contract allows for a trade should the Maple Leafs fail to make the post-season which you know, is pretty likely.

What is the future for captain Mats Sundin? Will Paul Maurice get another chance? Who will be the successor Fletcher dubbed The Ultimate Man?

An aside, thank-you. I’m flattered but I already have a job.

Here’s the thing, anyone can mind-manage a winning team. The real trick is for a recipe to resuscitate a losing one.

Fletcher’s remarks at the trade deadline indicate that as long as he runs the show, the gloves will be off. That means possible buyouts, ruthless trades, maybe even strongarm tactics to convince players that maybe Columbus or Nashville isn’t so bad.

So if you feel a little distanced from the Leafs latest playoff drive, that’s understandable. But if it’s change you want, stick around. Al Jolson never played in the NHL but he hit the nail on the head when he said “Folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
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