SUN Hockey Pool

The Last Word

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

It is widely acknowledged in sports that you're never as good as you look on your best nights, and you're never as bad as you look on your worst nights.

But there also is a corollary.

On your worst nights, you fully expose weaknesses that might have otherwise not been quite so evident.

For the Maple Leafs, Saturday was their worst night in more than a decade. And the 8-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators certainly made some shortcomings painfully clear.

What became evident?

For one thing, there is precious little depth on the Leafs' defence. That's almost totally the responsibility of the general manager.

MEDDLING CEO

John Ferguson Jr. might be slightly exonerated because of (a) what he inherited and (b) the meddling of the CEO, who takes a fancy to certain players and "urges" that they be signed.

But the rest of the blame is Ferguson's. He signed a number of players who could have been left unprotected or bought out, then replaced with others who are just as good, yet come more cheaply. That would have created cap room for a higher-level defenceman.

But the defensive woes go further than that. The defenders who are in place rarely seem to know what to do. So who gets the blame there?

In today's National Hockey League, head coaches usually provide the overall strategy, run the practices and deal with the media. Teaching tends to be the responsibility of the senior assistant coach.

In the Leafs' case, that's Rick Ley.

Enough said.

Then there is the matter of the goaltending.

Ever since he arrived in Toronto, Ed Belfour has covered up a multitude of sins committed by his teammates. His play has consistently ranged from good to excellent, and when he merely was ordinary in a couple of playoff series, the Leafs were immediately eliminated.

But this season, Belfour has not played up to his normal standards. He has handled the puck poorly, appeared to have trouble adjusting to the smaller catching glove, and simply been slow to react on other occasions.

Perhaps JFJ should have bought out Belfour's contract, but had he done so, who would have stepped in? The only elite goalie the Leafs realistically could have acquired was Nikolai Khabibulin, and he has been no better than Belfour.

So even though Saturday's debacle exposed a major Toronto weakness, it would appear little could have been done about it. Belfour was brought in years ago and has been the team's backbone ever since. Everyone knew he couldn't last indefinitely, and if this is indeed the end of the road, then Saturday is an indication of things to come.

But the development from Saturday's game that should be the most disconcerting for Leafs fans is the revelation that this is no longer a tough team.

Wade Belak got his nose broken on Thursday, and Tie Domi, having turned down a few dance invitations from Brian McGrattan in earlier games against Ottawa, changed his mind on Saturday and got punched out.

There is a somewhat laughable theory making the rounds that in today's game, enforcers are irrelevant. Anyone who believes that should have looked at the cowed Toronto bench on Saturday night.

BUSTED NOSES

The Leafs were supposed to be the roughest team in hockey with Belak, Domi and Nathan Perrott. But now, Belak and Domi have their noses spread all over their faces and Perrott apparently decided that his involvement was no longer necessary.

It's no accident that his teammates took a similar approach to other aspects of the game.

The Leafs were made to look awful by one of the best teams in the league.

In real terms, they're not that bad.

But they have some areas of serious concern -- as that shellacking made painfully clear. 

ms further from the thoughts of Canadians now as she lives in Tampa with husband Mike. She does, however, deserve induction into the Canadian hall.


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