So now we know.
Cliff Fletcher tried to play the nice guy. He tried to finesse it. He went for the carrot, not the stick. And he got burned.
It was clear from Tuesday's press conference that Cliff is ticked off, and rightly so. He never expected that every one of the NTC 5 would hold firm, he doesn't understand why they're so adamant about staying, and now he knows he's going to have to get his hands dirty in the off-season.
In hindsight, he should have taken a different approach. He needed to play it tough. No, not to a ridiculous extreme like Damien Cox and the Sportsnet panel suggest, sending guys to the minors just the embarass them. That's not how you do business, at least if you ever want to attract another free agent.
But now we know that Cliff needed to go in front of the cameras two weeks ago and said something like this:
It's time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to move in a new direction. We feel like we have a lot of talent on this roster, but the results haven't been there and it's time to make the necessary changes to help us compete in the future.
As part of that effort, we expect that we'll be approaching some of our veteran players about the possibility of a trade to a contending team. These players have spent years in Toronto, and have worked hard to bring a winning team to the city. Many have no-trade clauses, which they've earned and have every right to enforce if they choose.
However, as general manager it's my job to position this team for the future by whatever means are available to me, including trades, buyouts and other transactions. Accordingly, it's my plan to work with our veterans over the next few weeks to find a situation that works for both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the individual player.
The trade deadline will present us with a unique opportunity, one that doesn't exist at other times during the year. I expect that players will have personal preferences as far as which other opportunities they'd be interested in exploring, and we'll do everything we can to ensure we meet those desires. I believe that's the least we can do for these players.
Classy. Respectful. And not in the least bit subtle with the underlying message: "We can do it your way now, or my way in the summer."
Oh well. Chances are the Leafs will be in the exact same predicament next year. Maybe the new GM can use my script next time around.