What went wrong?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

That John Ferguson and Pat Quinn differed by a few hours on when Ed Belfour was done for the year is the least of the Maple Leafs problems.

Lines of communication always can be fixed; not so for the miscalculations and bad hunches that have put Toronto on the brink of playoff elimination.

Before the season, most teams gave themselves some salary cap wiggle room. The Leafs did not.

Teams were warned in the spring that the new National Hockey League would be fast-paced, scorer friendly with a zero tolerance on obstruction. The Leafs gladly signed on, in fact Ferguson had some good ideas on the topic. Yet they chose a big forward lineup, great down low, but with all the mobility of receding glaciers.

For the umpteenth time, the Leafs entered the regular season needing an upgrade on defence, especially at the 3-4-5-6 spot. They elected to bring back most of the same faces, mainly an ineffective Aki Berg, who is eyeing a return to Finland. Ferguson picked up Alex Khavanov from the St. Louis Blues, who turned into the new Alexander Karpovtsev. Then they took aging Luke Richardson as a trade deadline stop-gap.

When the games began in October, it quickly became apparent that Toronto needed to be strong in three areas; goaltending, special teams and inter-divisional play with eight games against each of its division rivals.

As it turned out, Belfour lost his edge and Mikael Tellqvist has yet to pick up the torch. The Leafs power play struck gold but the penalty killing went cold, now ranking near the bottom of the league and hurt by a rash of 5-on-3s. And when the Leafs needed more than ever to break the in-house curse of the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, they are a combined 1-8-1 against those teams, part of a terrible 9-15-3 mark in the division. They still have to face Buffalo twice and Ottawa once.

Unless divine intervention is in the forecast, Ferguson and Quinn soon will have plenty of time to talk about what went wrong. Whether they still are speaking to each other as gainfully employed members of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. remains to be seen.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Could the Leafs get some personnel help from their division tormentors next year? Defencemen Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden likely can't both be accommodated financially by the Senators and there will not be room for three goalies in Boston. Restricted free-agent Andrew Raycroft appears to be the odd man out there, but the new Bruins GM -- whoever that's going to be -- could keep Tim Thomas, Hannu Toivonen and Raycroft until the start of the season and then do a trade, but dealing in the division always is a risk ... Dave Checketts, the new owner of the Blues after a 10-month pursuit of the team, said he kept getting inspiration from a sign he saw outside a New York City church: One person who believes is worth more than 99 who have an interest. Checketts and Sports Capital Partners will pay $150 million US for the team and the Savvis Center lease ... As the Devils honoured 20-year man Ken Daneyko last week, ex-coach Tommy McVie recalled how excited the defenceman was to get the first call from the farm to join New Jersey. "I go to drive him to the airport and he has got everything he owns," McVie recalled. "I said 'geez, Kenny, this won't fit in my car. He looks at me sheepishly and says 'how long am I going up for?' I said 'if you play good, 15 years. If you don't, I'll see you tomorrow.' "

JAGR'S 50-50 SPLIT

New York Rangers' Jaromir Jagr became the NHL's first 50-goal scorer in three seasons last week and the first since Pavel Bure to do it for two teams.

The ex-Penguin, who now has achieved the 50-goal mark three times, got his milestone goals against Sean Burke (then a Hartford Whaler), current Rangers teammate Kevin Weekes (then with Tampa Bay) and most recently, Roberto Luongo of the Panthers.

Meanwhile, Alexander Ovechkin's total now stands at 47 for Washington. Only Teemu Selanne (76), Mike Bossy (53) and Joe Nieuwendyk (51) had more as rookies. Every rookie with at least 45 went on to win the Calder Trophy.

NASLUND CLEARS THE AIR

Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund tried to clear the air about an alleged split in the Canucks dressing room on Hockey Night In Canada. Naslund was said to be in a clique with Todd Bertuzzi that had alienated the rest of the club. He agreed the chemistry on the team is hurting, but said the split story was "totally false."

"When you do lose, there's a lot of speculation," Naslund said. "It's the media trying to read in. They want to think (he and Bertuzzi) were connected by the hip. That's not the case."

He also said the idea of he and Peter Forsberg shopping themselves as a free-agent package last summer ended the day he re-joined the Canucks.

"It would be tough for Peter to play against the Colorado Avalanche eight times in this division," Naslund said.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The Leafs are in Philadelphia tomorrow, then get three days off ... Carolina and Dallas should reach 100 points ... Brian Burke's new team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, host the Canucks with a chance to thwart his old team's playoff hopes.


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