Sunday, June 25, 2006

John Ferguson, Jr. makes a big splash on draft day

News Items

#1. Toronto Maple Leafs trade top goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for goaltender and former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft

#2. Leafs draft Jiri Tlusty with the 13th overall pick

#3. Leafs draft Kulemin with the 44th overall pick in the second round.

I really don't know whether to rejoice or cry over the Tuukka Rask/Andrew Raycroft deal. To me, Rask was the brightest star for the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Many Leafs fans figured that one of Rask or Pogge was expendable, but projecting goalies at such a young age is a tricky business. Rask definitely had more upside, and I had him penciled in as the best hope for a Leaf's cup in the next ten years

Picking up Raycroft is gutsy move by JFJ. It's really a make-or-break move for John Ferguson, Jr. My cynical side thinks he made the move to save his own hide. If the Leafs don't perform well next season, he's gone, so he might as well mortgage the future in hopes of icing a team that at least squeaks into the playoffs next season. But, if Raycroft busts and continues his lousy play at the start of the next season, JFJ could be gone within the first 25 games of next season.

To JFJ's credit, there were many reasons that Raycroft may have had an off-year last season. Raycroft's agent convinced him to hold out at the beginning of last season. He didn't play much in the lockout the season before. Boston got off to a rough start, and a goalie's psyche can easily be rattled. Raycroft is only two years removed from an amazing Calder trophy-winning campaign, and sources have said that he really wanted to play for the Leafs. A betting man would wager that Raycroft trains hard over the summer, and comes back hungry to show that he can return to the form displayed during his rookie campaign.

At this point, The Leafs have already committed to Raycroft. They might as well commit him to a long-year contract now before waiting until his asking price rises again with a return to form next season. This is a bet the farm move by JFJ, and he might as well go all in. I'm hoping Raycroft is open to a 4 year contract in the 2 - 2.4 million dollar range, which would put the Leafs in a solid financial situation, allowing them to lock in a legitimate #1 goalie at the lower end of the salary spectrum for almost half a decade.

The fact that the Leafs have a potential legitimate #1 goalie for next season makes me happy in one other sense. We are nearing the end of the Mats Sundin's career, and this move should signal to Sundin that the Leafs organization are committed to icing a competitive roster next season. With a low-cost #1 goalie, the Leafs should be able to sign McCabe, a #3 D-man (McKee, F. Kaberle, Kubina), and a legitimate first line winger or two (Elias, Samsonov) for Sundin.

I'm stoked that the Leafs managed to nab Jiri Tlusty and Kulemin in the first and second rounds. Tlusty is really the top guy I was hoping the Leafs would be able to secure with the 13th overall pick, and I was ecstatic to hear that they got him. I consider both picks to be absolute steals. Both players are hard-nosed, skilled scoring forwards that may be ready to step right in and contribute for the Leafs next season. Kulemin played on a line with Malkin and Ovechkin during the World Championships to give you an idea of the caliber of player the Leafs managed to pick up. Kulemin's stock rose quite a bit this season.

All-in-all, a good day for the Leaf's organization. My heart initially dropped to the floor when I read that Rask was. Upon reflection, I've accepted the trade for Raycroft as a calculated risk that the Leaf's GM took in the best interest of the future of this organization. If Raycroft returns to form next season, and the Leafs manage to pick up a few key free agents, Sundin may have one last hope for a Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.