As Mats Sundin is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I think it’s only fair that we give a little credit to the man that brought him to Toronto.
Cliff Fletcher showed more faith in the big Swede than the vast majority of Leafs fans were willing to, as Fletcher was able to see the big picture. Although the Toronto Maple Leafs’ beloved captain Wendel Clark was a fan favourite and a great player, he was in his late twenties, had only been a point-per-game player once in all his NHL career, and was clearly not capable of carrying a team the way Sundin did throughout the late nineties and early oughts.
As a matter of fact, we are nearing the 18th anniversary of the legendary trade. It was June 28th, 1994, when the Leafs sent Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson, and a 1st round pick to the Québec Nordiques for Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner, and a 1st round pick.
Clark only spent one (lockout-abbreviated) season with the Nordiques before they shipped him out for NHL nice guy Claude Lemieux.
Sundin, as you should well know by now, went on to spend 13 productive seasons with the Leafs, leading them through some of the team’s most memorable playoff runs in the last forty-five years.
Of course, the Mats Sundin heist wasn’t the only move worth noting during Fletcher’s first stint in Toronto.
Gary Leeman, Michel Petit, Jeff Reese, Craid Berube, and Alexander Godynyuk were all handed plane tickets from Toronto to Calgary for Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Rick Wamsley, and Kent Manderville. Macoun, and of course Gilmour, were critical elements in the great run of ’93.
Now, although Gilmour lead the team with 127 points that season (and finished 8th overall in the individual scoring race), Trader Cliff managed to bring in a solid supporting cast, including one 50+ goal-scorer Dave Andreychuk. Grant Fuhr and a 5th round pick were sent to Buffalo for Andreychuk and a 1st round pick (which later became Kenny Jonsson). Not a bad idea, when you’ve got a young Felix Potvin between the pipes.
Oh, and although Fletcher’s most famous quote has to be the succinct "draft, shmaft" comment, it should be acknowledged that a number of very solid players were drafted under his tenure, and there are two that will stand out in your mind.
Nikolai Borschevsky may have had his career shortened by injuries, but he was still a very capable winger for Gilmour, and during his only healthy season, scored at nearly a point-per-game clip. His seventh-game goal against the Detroit Red Wings will enshrine him in the annals of Maple Leafs history forever.
Other decent choices include Yannic Perreault (24th overall), Kenny Jonsson (12th overall), Fredrick Modin (64th overall), Sergei Berezin (256th overall), and Danil Markov (223rd overall). It is Tomas Kaberle (204th overall), however, that you can probably thank Cliff for the most. Sure, the draft is a total crap shoot at such a late round, but the fact remains that Cliff picked him up.
In short, if you were a die-hard Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and went crazy watching the playoff runs in ’93 or the early oughts, you have Cliff Fletcher to thank. Alex Steen, Carlo Coliacovo, and Jeff Finger notwithstanding, Cliff Fletcher deserves a lot of your respect.
Although the ghost of Ryan Hollweg may still haunt your dreams, I humbly submit that Cliff Fletcher has been responsible for most of the joy in your sports watching life, and, given the grim spectre of John Ferguson Jr., probably not that many of our current woes. Hisacquisition of Mikhail Grabovski and his part in the Dion Phaneuf deal deserve some credit as well.