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Cliff Fletcher Legacy

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Old
09-26-2012, 12:37 PM
  #1
Stephen
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Cliff Fletcher Legacy

Cliff Fletcher has been a mainstay in the NHL management fraternity for decades and is unquestionably a guy who deserves recognition as a builder of the game in the HHOF, but looking back on his body of work, how does he rate as a GM?

The positives:

Fletcher was involved in the Montreal Canadiens farm system during the Original Six era in the late 1950s and 1960s. In the late 60s, he was an assistant GM with the expansion St. Louis Blues, the most successful expansion team of the Expansion Six in their early days, making three runs to the Cup finals.

Then with the Flames, he basically built up an expansion team and then presided over its relocation to Calgary, where he turned his team into a perennial powerhouse and an eventual Stanley Cup champion in an era dominated by the Edmonton Oilers.

Drafted exceptionally well in the early 80s, acquiring players like Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury, Brett Hull, Mike Vernon and others.

When he went to Toronto, he turned a dysfunctional franchise (briefly) into a legitimate contender, pulling off a series of high profile trades that brought credible star power to the Leafs instantly with the Anderson, Fuhr, Gilmour, Andreychuk deals and also brought. Mats Sundin to Toronto.

The negatives:

For the amount of time in the game, winning one championship is perhaps a little underwhelming compared to some of his contemporaries. Especially disappointing were the Calgary Flames of the early 90s.

High profile Draft Schmaft philosophy in Toronto, which favored quick fix trades over patient development, and his trading of the Leafs 1984 (Iafrate), 1985 (Clark), 1986 (Damphousse), 1987 (Richardson), 1989 (Thornton), 1990 (Berehowsky), 1993 x 2 (Jonsson and Wilson), 1994 (Fichaud), 1996 (pick traded to Philadelphia, Zubrus) and 1997 (pick traded to NYI, Luongo) first round picks away for often short term gains.

Traded a young Brett Hull from Calgary to St. Louis for "missing pieces" (Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley) in the cup run of 1989.

At the 1990 draft, traded the Brodeur pick to New Jersey for a chance to pick Trevor Kidd, basically making one of the highest profile draft miscalculations of all time.

Presided over two disastrous firesales in Toronto, the first in 1996 saw the Leafs move Andreychuk, Gartner, Gagner, Muller and others away during the offseason in efforts to cut salary. All they got back were mid round picks and a couple of minor leaguers, which was enough to send a veteran playoff team into the toilet the next year. His trading of Doug Gilmour yielded promising pieces, but were ruined by the next regime.

Succumbed to the public pressure to bring Wendel Clark back from the Islanders for a hefty price.

Failed to bring Wayne Gretzky to Toronto because of a lack of funds.

In 2008, he presided over an unprecedented and spectacularly inept "clearing of the decks" rebuild that resulted in a scorched earth purge of Sundin, Tucker, McCabe, Raycroft, Wellwood for literally no tangible gains.

In summary, he was a GM who both had a track record as a patient builder and championship winner in Calgary. He was also a high profile GM who did a lot of good in Toronto, but also made costly and risky moves which backfired in the long term. At two key moments in Toronto's transitional periods in 1996-97 and 2008-09, he completely bungled the job.

So in the end, what do you make of his lengthy career in the game?

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09-26-2012, 01:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
Cliff Fletcher has been a mainstay in the NHL management fraternity for decades and is unquestionably a guy who deserves recognition as a builder of the game in the HHOF, but looking back on his body of work, how does he rate as a GM?
He was a great GM.

Quote:
The positives:

Fletcher was involved in the Montreal Canadiens farm system during the Original Six era in the late 1950s and 1960s. In the late 60s, he was an assistant GM with the expansion St. Louis Blues, the most successful expansion team of the Expansion Six in their early days, making three runs to the Cup finals.

Then with the Flames, he basically built up an expansion team and then presided over its relocation to Calgary, where he turned his team into a perennial powerhouse and an eventual Stanley Cup champion in an era dominated by the Edmonton Oilers.
Pretty solid resume right there. The late 80s Flames were a powerhouse.

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Drafted exceptionally well in the early 80s, acquiring players like Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury, Brett Hull, Mike Vernon and others.

When he went to Toronto, he turned a dysfunctional franchise (briefly) into a legitimate contender, pulling off a series of high profile trades that brought credible star power to the Leafs instantly with the Anderson, Fuhr, Gilmour, Andreychuk deals and also brought. Mats Sundin to Toronto.
Yup.

Quote:
The negatives:

For the amount of time in the game, winning one championship is perhaps a little underwhelming compared to some of his contemporaries. Especially disappointing were the Calgary Flames of the early 90s.

High profile Draft Schmaft philosophy in Toronto, which favored quick fix trades over patient development, and his trading of the Leafs 1984 (Iafrate), 1985 (Clark), 1986 (Damphousse), 1987 (Richardson), 1989 (Thornton), 1990 (Berehowsky), 1993 x 2 (Jonsson and Wilson), 1994 (Fichaud), 1996 (pick traded to Philadelphia, Zubrus) and 1997 (pick traded to NYI, Luongo) first round picks away for often short term gains.
Draft Schmaft was a product of the time. The Leafs were trying to get over the hump due to their quick turn around and they had a no salary cap world to fill in the blanks with money.

Most of those guys traded turned out to be nothing.

Damphousse ended up as 50 goal scorer Andreychuk.

Clark got Sundin.. easily a win.

A couple of losses there (Luongo and Jonsson especially in my book) but they were going for it.

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Traded a young Brett Hull from Calgary to St. Louis for "missing pieces" (Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley) in the cup run of 1989.
I bet he does that trade any day of the week.

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At the 1990 draft, traded the Brodeur pick to New Jersey for a chance to pick Trevor Kidd, basically making one of the highest profile draft miscalculations of all time.
Yup, Kidd never made it but if you read the reports at the time he was supposed to be the next big thing.


Quote:
Presided over two disastrous firesales in Toronto, the first in 1996 saw the Leafs move Andreychuk, Gartner, Gagner, Muller and others away during the offseason in efforts to cut salary. All they got back were mid round picks and a couple of minor leaguers, which was enough to send a veteran playoff team into the toilet the next year. His trading of Doug Gilmour yielded promising pieces, but were ruined by the next regime.
Not much you can do about this when you have to scale salary back and rebuild because your key pieces are past their best before date.

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Succumbed to the public pressure to bring Wendel Clark back from the Islanders for a hefty price.
This wasn't public pressure. It was public pressure and from the locker room. He did pay too much to get Wendel back, I think he was hoping to capture lightning in a bottle again.

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Failed to bring Wayne Gretzky to Toronto because of a lack of funds.
No, he didn't fail to bring Gretzky to Toronto. It was a done deal that was overruled by ownership.

Quote:
In 2008, he presided over an unprecedented and spectacularly inept "clearing of the decks" rebuild that resulted in a scorched earth purge of Sundin, Tucker, McCabe, Raycroft, Wellwood for literally no tangible gains.
Sundin wasn't purged.

The rest were addition through subtraction in my books.

Quote:
In summary, he was a GM who both had a track record as a patient builder and championship winner in Calgary. He was also a high profile GM who did a lot of good in Toronto, but also made costly and risky moves which backfired in the long term. At two key moments in Toronto's transitional periods in 1996-97 and 2008-09, he completely bungled the job.

So in the end, what do you make of his lengthy career in the game?
I disagree he bungled 96-97 and 2008-09.

When you have a mandate to clear the decks and/or drop salary, you aren't going to get the same hockey assets back except through luck of the draw. You're generally trading proven for possible and that is always a bit hit and miss.

Similarly I give JFJr a much bigger pass than most people around the boards here because, even though I agree a lot of the signings and moves he made ended up being awful, he had a gun to his head with the mandate given to him by ownership.

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09-26-2012, 01:46 PM
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vadim sharifijanov
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one other thing re: the hull trade. if he'd kept hull, even if hull had ended up breaking out in the same way under crisp or perhaps in the early 90s, fletcher would have just had to eventually sell him off like all of the other flames stars. at least he got a cup out of it instead of a mixed bag of prospects and/or lesser players.

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09-26-2012, 01:54 PM
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I bet he does that trade any day of the week.
No doubt he does.

And the Stars redo the Nieuwendyk/Iginla deal without a doubt.

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No, he didn't fail to bring Gretzky to Toronto. It was a done deal that was overruled by ownership.
You are right; this is well-known.

besides 1998, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the biggest disappointment of Gretzky's career.

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The rest were addition through subtraction in my books.
Yes, they probably were, the culture had to change.

But, the 2006, 2007, 2008 Leafs were considerably better than the last 4 editions and those 4 players were a big reason why. the team was supposed to be better by now, as a result of purging them, but let's face facts; the assets we got back weren't great.

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09-26-2012, 01:58 PM
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Yes, they probably were, the culture had to change.

But, the 2006, 2007, 2008 Leafs were considerably better than the last 4 editions and those 4 players were a big reason why. the team was supposed to be better by now, as a result of purging them, but let's face facts; the assets we got back weren't great.
Agreed. They put off rebuilding when JFJr wanted to do it, Fletcher cleared the decks to do it once the realization set in, and Burke should have done it the old fashioned way.

I still think that Burke thought he could do something similar to Fletcher in the early 90s: blow things up, get a couple of nice pieces (Kessel for example) then fill in the gaps using free agency.

Unfortunately as we all know now, most of the high end players are resigning before free agency or signing long term deals that Burke has a problem with giving out. So he missed out on that front.

So Fletcher and Burke blew up the team to change the attitude and open positions up and then had trouble filling them with anyone worth while.

Fast forward a few years and now he is forced to do it the old fashioned way using the draft and here we are at a labour disagreement hahaha..

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09-26-2012, 02:11 PM
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... oh most definitely, he belongs in the HHOf. On measure & overall his track records really quite good, excellent in fact. Huge contributions made to the franchises & cities in which he lived & worked. Class Act.

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09-26-2012, 04:02 PM
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One of the better GM's of the past 2-3 decades. That Gilmour trade was one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.

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09-26-2012, 06:05 PM
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One of the better GM's of the past 2-3 decades. That Gilmour trade was one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
Of course there was a reason he got Gilmour as cheap as he did.

The Joe Mullen trade worked out pretty well as well especially with Eddy Beers and his back injury.

Of course one of the reasons why Hull was traded was because of Coach Terry Crisp.

Blues fans always complain about Scotty Bowman leaving. The real key to the franchise would have been keeping Fletcher and/or Jimmy Devellano instead of getting rid of them.

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09-26-2012, 08:39 PM
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No doubt he does.

And the Stars redo the Nieuwendyk/Iginla deal without a doubt.
Silly argument really.

Ramage was a bit player on the cup run and Wamsley was a backup goalie. Not nearly the same impact as the Nieuwendyk deal for Dallas.

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09-26-2012, 08:46 PM
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Fletcher made some very good moves and is remembered for putting together some great teams. That whole "draft schmaft" quote is something I heard Fletcher say in an interview that was more just tongue in cheek than anything. He didn't think it would be taken so seriously.

I think he leaves a good legacy. The Leaf fans liked him even to this day. He represented a time when hockey was fun in Toronto and promising.

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09-26-2012, 08:55 PM
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Silly argument really.

Ramage was a bit player on the cup run and Wamsley was a backup goalie. Not nearly the same impact as the Nieuwendyk deal for Dallas.
ramage had two fewer points in that run than nieuwendyk did. stepped up in a big way after suter got hurt.

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09-26-2012, 08:56 PM
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I think he leaves a good legacy. The Leaf fans liked him even to this day. He represented a time when hockey was fun in Toronto and promising.
This is one successful aspect of his tenure. He did project a big league swagger that's been missing since the Quinn era in Toronto.

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09-26-2012, 10:59 PM
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Silly argument really.

Ramage was a bit player on the cup run and Wamsley was a backup goalie. Not nearly the same impact as the Nieuwendyk deal for Dallas.
no, but if you're Fletcher do you go back in time, avoid that trade knowing what Hull will become, and hope you still win the 1989 cup?


Hell no.

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09-26-2012, 11:15 PM
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no, but if you're Fletcher do you go back in time, avoid that trade knowing what Hull will become, and hope you still win the 1989 cup?


Hell no.
I don't really buy the butterfly effect argument. Seems like a nice way for championship teams to justify actually horrible deals as necessary when they probably weren't. Not to dwell too much further on this point, but maybe this attitude encapsulates Fletcher's "price be damned" philosophy of building teams in general. Its a strength and a weakness considering the times it did pay off versus the long term consequences to many of his trades.

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09-26-2012, 11:23 PM
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seventieslord
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I don't really buy the butterfly effect argument. Seems like a nice way for championship teams to justify actually horrible deals as necessary when they probably weren't. Not to dwell too much further on this point, but maybe this attitude encapsulates Fletcher's "price be damned" philosophy of building teams in general. Its a strength and a weakness considering the times it did pay off versus the long term consequences to many of his trades.
the cup trumps everything, basically. Winning at all costs is OK.... as long as you actually win, and in 1989 he did.

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09-27-2012, 01:10 AM
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Positive:
Wins a giant bidding war and successfully signs relative unknown Jeff Finger to a steal of a contract paying him 14M over 4 years.






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09-27-2012, 01:19 AM
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Positive:
Wins a giant bidding war and successfully signs relative unknown Jeff Finger to a steal of a contract paying him 14M over 4 years.





that was probably the single most unexplainable transaction of the last 10 years.

Finger was 28, with 94 NHL games to his credit. and had been Colorado's #3 defenseman behind Brett Clark and Scott Hannan.

Then, on the '09 Leafs, a bad, non-playoff team, he was the #5, behind Kubina, Kaberle, White, and rookie Luke Schenn.


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09-27-2012, 05:23 AM
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that was probably the single most unexplainable transaction of the last 10 years.

Finger was 28, with 94 NHL games to his credit. and had been Colorado's #3 defenseman behind Brett Clark and Scott Hannan.

Then, on the '09 Leafs, a bad, non-playoff team, he was the #5, behind Kubina, Kaberle, White, and rookie Luke Schenn.
It's kind of apparent to me that Finger, Frogren and to an extent Van Ryn, were added to the Leafs roster as a way to deliberately avoid having Schenn jump directly into the NHL. Now of course, Schenn had that great camp, and the only thing they accomplished was pushing Colaiacovo out of the lineup and into another ill-advised trade. If that was the plan, then it's bizarre how easily they went back on it.

I have a hard time believing the rumours that Fletcher thought he was signing Kurt Sauer. Too many competent people would have had to sign off on the paperwork, and I really resist explanations that make NHL transactions sound like kids trading hockey cards.

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09-27-2012, 09:16 AM
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I like Fletcher, but I agree that there is no way you do that Hull for Ramage deal over again.

Hull went on to become one of the greatest snipers in the history of the game. The guy he was traded for was shuttled out of town immediately after winning the Cup, for a 2nd round pick.

A prime Ramage for a young Hull is a deal you may consider; a past his prime Ramage for Hull was a bad deal.

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09-27-2012, 12:17 PM
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I like Fletcher, but I agree that there is no way you do that Hull for Ramage deal over again.

Hull went on to become one of the greatest snipers in the history of the game. The guy he was traded for was shuttled out of town immediately after winning the Cup, for a 2nd round pick.

A prime Ramage for a young Hull is a deal you may consider; a past his prime Ramage for Hull was a bad deal.
That is why he would do it again, any day.

Hull was already beginning to break through when they moved him.. they knew what they were doing. Trading future for now.

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09-27-2012, 12:27 PM
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That is why he would do it again, any day.

Hull was already beginning to break through when they moved him.. they knew what they were doing. Trading future for now.
Sure, but Fletcher also took that attitude into making moves like Fichaud for Benoit Hogue - which is okay now since Fichaud bust, but at the time it was like trading Robin Lehner for an older Clarke MacArthur - in a bid to add secondary scoring.

He also traded Kenny Jonsson, the eventual Roberto Luongo pick, Darby Hendrickson and Sean Haggerty for an aging Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider in a bid for a long playoff run in 1996 which was completely useless.

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09-27-2012, 01:54 PM
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Sure, but Fletcher also took that attitude into making moves like Fichaud for Benoit Hogue - which is okay now since Fichaud bust, but at the time it was like trading Robin Lehner for an older Clarke MacArthur - in a bid to add secondary scoring.

He also traded Kenny Jonsson, the eventual Roberto Luongo pick, Darby Hendrickson and Sean Haggerty for an aging Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider in a bid for a long playoff run in 1996 which was completely useless.
Your point?

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09-27-2012, 03:14 PM
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I like Fletcher, but I agree that there is no way you do that Hull for Ramage deal over again.

Hull went on to become one of the greatest snipers in the history of the game. The guy he was traded for was shuttled out of town immediately after winning the Cup, for a 2nd round pick.

A prime Ramage for a young Hull is a deal you may consider; a past his prime Ramage for Hull was a bad deal.
In hindsight, sure. But at the time, it was simply dealing the future for trying to win now - can't fault any GM for "going for it", whether it pays off or not. How many times have the Flyers failed to address goaltending (either in the offseason or deadline) only to have it fall apart more often than not. Is it really a bad thing if they were to deal a budding star for a goalie if it leads to a Stanley Cup?

If the Flyers dealt Claude Giroux for Roberto Luongo, and won the cup this year, would anyone in Philly care? And if Giroux won a couple of Art Ross trophies, scored 1500 pts, would it ever really be a bad deal?

I'm not suggesting Ramage was a critical piece of that cup team, but he was definitely an important player.

Look at the Chicago Black Hawks. Imagine it's game seven and you have a "Ramage" back there instead of Campoli? Maybe the giveaway doesn't happen? Maybe it's THEM in the finals?

I never fault a GM for going for a cup run. More often then not, it's Fichaud, or N Bergfors, or Robert Nilsson who's going the other way, not Brett Hull. It's a smart, calculated risk, it's the right way to think for those who measure results in hardware, not stats.

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This is one successful aspect of his tenure. He did project a big league swagger that's been missing since the Quinn era in Toronto.
Burke has that swagger, it's too bad the team doesn't.

Fletcher got results, he'll always be well-regarded in hockey and in Toronto. No doubt about it. Granted, it was a time without a cap but he brought big league players to Toronto and the city was brought to life in April and May (almost June - thanks Gretzky!). There was Andreychuk, Fuhr, Mogilny, Anderson, Gilmour, Clark - a lot of players that don't rhyme with Bozak and Lupul.

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09-27-2012, 05:42 PM
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vadim sharifijanov
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I don't really buy the butterfly effect argument. Seems like a nice way for championship teams to justify actually horrible deals as necessary when they probably weren't. Not to dwell too much further on this point, but maybe this attitude encapsulates Fletcher's "price be damned" philosophy of building teams in general. Its a strength and a weakness considering the times it did pay off versus the long term consequences to many of his trades.
i think you're giving fletcher too little credit here. he's a smart guy, and one thing they say about smart GMs is they manage like a game of chess. you put yourself in the best position for the next move, and in the best position five moves ahead.

it's a half-remembered quote, but i am certain it is either from hull's autobiography or a beckett from the early 90s. fletcher to his braintrust: "do we still make this deal knowing that brett hull might score 40 goals?" they all say yes. "do we still make this deal knowing that he might score 50 goals?" everyone still agrees. then they make the deal.

obviously, i don't think anyone could have suspected that hull would put up 86 goals in a season, but neither do i think fletcher didn't account for hull becoming a star.

here is what i think his thinking was at the time: edmonton is already starting to dismantle its team (coffey trade). gretzky's contract is up in a year; are they going to keep him? can they keep him? salaries are going up and it's not certain calgary will be able to afford to keep its stacked team together. window for the cup may therefore be very small. could be two years.

now let's pretend that fletcher is speculating that hull will score 40 goals the year after we trade him (we know, in fact, both that hull would score 40 goals the next year and that fletcher accounted for it). 40 goal hull would still be only the 3rd best RW on the team, behind loob and mullen (at the time of the hull trade, mullen was nearing the end of his second straight 40 goal year, which was his 5th overall; loob was nearing the end of his 50 goal, first team all-star year). both guys outpointed hull in '89 (hull's breakout 41 goal/84 point year) and neither were nearly as one-dimensional as hull was.

so if your window is shrinking and you need to win now, plus you suspect that if hull actually does break through you probably won't be able to keep him (after the cup win, the flames dumped, in order, the following expensive former all-stars: ramage, mccrimmon, mullen, gilmour, makarov, suter, vernon, macinnis, nieuwendyk, and eventually even fleury. ramage, mccrimmon, and mullen were all gone before the beginning of hull's MVP year.

so even we imagine that keeping hull would have been great in 1990 and after, especially paired with an elite playmaker like gilmour, you've already missed your window because your depth is gone (mullen, mccrimmon). especially being that mccdonald and pepper were nearing the end, and loob was going back to sweden (he couldn't have known back in '88 that makarov would have come over to replace loob).

keeping hull at best could have extended the flames' status as a very good but not great team. he wouldn't yet have been enough in '88 and '89, and the guys he was supposed to supplement would have been gone by '91. which leaves the 1990 season as your all-in year (and who knows? maybe hull could have taken them all the way that year).

maybe hull and gilmour put up MVP type seasons in the early 90s. fletcher has no idea (how could he?) that fleury is going to be fleury, and that he'll have makarov. he probably does suspect, however, that he'll have to dump guys like mullen and mccrimmon. is a less deep team with superstar hull for a few years until his contract is up and they have to dump him for picks and lesser players worth not going all-in for a cup run in '88 and '89?

but the other factor is that they thought reinhart was done. same year they traded hull, they gave reinhart away to vancouver. even with the emergence of gary suter, they felt they needed another puck mover to replace reinhart. and good thing they did, because when suter went down in the '89 playoffs, ramage, who had been playing a defensive role since the trade, re-assumed those offensive duties. do the flames win in '89 without ramage and with hull? i'm not so sure, especially if crisp wasn't going to give him the offensive minutes he needs over mullen and loob anyway. and did they need hull? the top two RWs on that team scored a combined 24 goals; plus, that team's powerplay killed everyone.

also, knowing what we knew about mike vernon back then, and what we know about him now, how is picking up an able vernon insurance a bad idea? turns out they didn't need wamsley, but it's vernon; you never know if you're going to get conn smythe vernon or dan cloutier vernon.


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Originally Posted by Stephen View Post
Sure, but Fletcher also took that attitude into making moves like Fichaud for Benoit Hogue - which is okay now since Fichaud bust, but at the time it was like trading Robin Lehner for an older Clarke MacArthur - in a bid to add secondary scoring.

He also traded Kenny Jonsson, the eventual Roberto Luongo pick, Darby Hendrickson and Sean Haggerty for an aging Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider in a bid for a long playoff run in 1996 which was completely useless.
you win some, you lose some.

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09-27-2012, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by BraveCanadian View Post
Your point?
That the things that Fletcher did to make the Leafs competitive were also the things that drove the Leafs into the ground.

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