November 21, 2007

Redemption for Rask

June 24, 2006 - a day that will live on in infamy for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. It was the day the Leafs traded goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for Andrew Raycroft. Hey, John Ferguson, good call.

The Bruins were in town last night to face Toronto and guess who was manning the pipes for Boston? Tuukka Rask, the bright-eyed 20-year-old rookie, making his first start in the NHL against the Maple Leafs, the team that drafted him in the first round, 21st overall in the 2005 entry draft.

Last year, Rask was said to be the best goalie outside the NHL, and although one game does not a career make, I think it's safe to say Rask has a bright future in hockey.

Oh boy, did the Leafs ever get ripped off on this trade. Rask for Raycroft! It's going to go down as one of the worst trades in Leafs history. It's already a bust. If the Leafs had any confidence in Raycroft, they wouldn't have given up more draft picks to acquire Vesa Toskala.
John Ferguson, the soon-to-be fired general manager (I hope) of the Maple Laughs, had a great look at Rask last night, who shone against the Leafs, making 30 saves on 32 shots and earning first-star honours. The kid looked great out there. Very composed and full of poise. He made several great saves in close and didn't let a Mats Sundin knuckleball goal from the blue line faze him. At six-foot three Rask is a big boy, but boy is he quick.

The Leafs ended up losing the game 4-2. This time, they blew a 2-0 lead. It's like a broken record with this club, eh? They played about 50 minutes of good hockey last night, but broke down in their own end late in the third period, as usual. I always say it when Raycroft doesn't come up with a big save for his team, so to be fair, I'll say it about Toskala. The third goal was a stinker. Toskala should have had it, plain and simple.

It seems Toronto's 3-0 shutout over the high-flying Ottawa Senators on Saturday night was a fluke, and had more to do with Ottawa not showing up than Toronto dominating their provincial rivals. In all honesty, it's not the result of last night's tilt that bothers me - I'm used to the inconsistent Leafs and their penchant for blowing leads on home ice.

It's Rask. How could the Leafs have traded this stud prospect for the pathetic Andrew Raycroft? It makes my insides churn.

I know everyone already knows this but, just for the record, John Ferguson is a complete idiot. Tuukka Rask proved it last night. Rask, it seems, is ready to play in the NHL. Only two years after being drafted. The Leafs knew they had a can't miss prospect in Rask, and goaltender Justin Pogge, so why was there a need to trade Rask two summers ago, especially for RaySOFT, who was coming off a horrendous season.

Two summers ago, Martin Gerber and Manny Legace were both free agent goalies, available to the highest bidder. The Leafs, with Rask and Pogge waiting in the wings, should have signed one of them, and let their two young goaltending prospects develop. Both Legace and Gerber got contracts in the $4 million dollar range, well within the Leafs budget.

Instead, Ferguson, who has always talked the talk about drafting and developing talent, traded a first-round draft pick (Rask) for Raycroft, automatically pegging Justin Pogge as the Leafs' goalie of the future. Pogge struggled last year in the AHL. His statistics were not great and the Toronto Marlies missed the playoffs. It looks like he's going to need more time to develop, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Ferguson, not wanting to rush Pogge, and knowing that Raycroft was not the answer, went and traded another first-round draft pick (and a second-round pick) this past summer to acquire Vesa Toskala. The insanity continues. How this team continues to trade away draft picks just blows the mind.

Watching Rask in goal for Boston last night made it all hit home. Hard. Ferguson is a no-good general manager and he won't be around long enough to see if Justin Pogge is the real deal and the goaltender of the future. The whole situation puts more pressure on young Pogge's shoulders. Pogge's not stupid, he knows that the Leafs are the worst defensive team in the NHL. He also knows that by trading Rask, the Leafs made him the chosen one. Instead of letting both goalies develop, Ferguson and the Leafs put all their eggs in one basket - the Pogge basket. If Pogge turns out to be a bust, then what? The Leafs will be right back in the same boat, and if history is any indication, they'll trade more assets for a "quick-fix." If the Leafs had kept both Rask and Pogge, they could have traded one of them in the future, even today, to get them the defensive help they so desperately need.

The constant trading of assets - it's sheer lunacy! John Ferguson, based on the Rask for Raycroft trade alone, should be fired. Straight up. Sure, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, but all I have to say is that Raycroft sucks. That's the bottom line. It doesn't even matter how good Rask turns out to be. Raycroft simply stinks. He's a $2 million dollar a year back-up goalie. And he makes me sick.

Although it pains me to agree with The Star's Damien Cox, he's right - the Leafs are a dysfunctional franchise. It's true, and watching Tuukka Rask tend goal for the Boston Bruins last night showcased Toronto's, and Ferguson's, incompetence. It's tough to be a Maple Leafs fan right now, and I mean that from the bottom of my blue and white heart. This team is not headed in the right direction, and has been going down the wrong path for some time now.


Something has got to give. Someone has got to go. Enough is enough, and it's time for a change. For a boat load of changes, actually. John Ferguson Jr., I'm looking at you...