It's not playoffs or bust

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

The recent history of Maple Leaf ownership meddling in the hockey office has as much to do with the 40-year Stanley Cup drought as the on-ice product.

There was Harold Ballard's alienation of superstars, Steve Stavro snipping Cliff Fletcher's purse strings on the verge of Cup contention and the machinations of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. dictating trades for favoured sons and implementing a three-headed monster of a management search committee.

But in this salary cap world with a finite budget, the suits appear more inclined to let the general manager John Ferguson carry out his plan, flawed as it might be. That was evident at the trade deadline, when Ferguson opted for status quo versus high-priced rentals, knowing the risk of more lost playoff revenue.

Richard Peddie, president and CEO, did not interpret his GM's words and trade inaction as tossing in the towel for this season, but conceded Leaf Nation might have to bite the bullet again this spring.

"We have playoff ambitions, but at the same time realize we're in tough, in a great competitive league balance," Peddie said. "John elected not to trade draft picks and assets and felt Yanic (Perreault) was the best bet. Those were tough decisions, but it's John's decisions. He's in complete control."

Ferguson was given a one-year contract extension earlier this season, but that's not a guarantee he'll be back.

"We're all judged on performance at the end of the year; John, (Raptors GM) Bryan Colangelo, and even myself," Peddie said.

The latter said he wasn't expecting fireworks from Fergie at the deadline.

"You go back to some of the big deadline deals we tried, starting with Owen Nolan. None of them worked. There were 25 teams who made trades, but I thought (Anaheim GM) Brian Burke put it best when he said 'there's only one (Cup) parade.' "

As was the case for the Edmonton Oilers last season, just qualifying can mean a playoff payday. But there's an obvious risk in selling pieces of the farm. Would as little as two post-season home dates in a first-round series be worth the depth chart losses?

"I told John not to worry (about playoff revenue), that I'll look after the dollars with our chief financial officer (Ian Clarke)," Peddie said. "We want to make the playoffs, but it's all not about the playoffs."

OLD IS OUT

Spare us the caterwauling from fans and media and about Gary Roberts and Curtis Joseph not getting to retire as Leafs.

Good for Roberts for finding a fit in Pittsburgh where the Penguins need a tough father figure. But this isn't 2002 and definitely not 1967 when a team of 40-year-olds was in vogue in this town.

Both Roberts and Joseph came through here once and made their mark. They could have stayed, but moved on. If the playoffs started tonight, then Roberts is a fine asset, but the earlier deadline this year means another month of fretting about his body holding up.

NO FLYER ZONE?

In Philadelphia, where loyalty to former Flyers has hindered owner Ed Snider as much as helped, the fate of general manager Paul Holmgren and coach John Stevens is in limbo.

"When I'm ready to talk about Paul, I'll talk about Paul," Snider said recently, a stance that has observers writing Holmgren off.

But Holmgren is not being timid, preparing for the draft and a summer of active free-agent pursuit. But he and Stevens run a team that has 17 wins.

WING AND A PRAYER

For the Todd Bertuzzi trade to benefit both the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings, he must appear in two-thirds of the Wings' playoff games. Also, Detroit must get to the final or Bertuzzi stay among its top-five playoff scorers if the team reaches the conference final. Under those conditions, Florida will get a first-round pick. Anything less and it becomes either a second- or third-rounder.

Bertuzzi is expected back mid-month. Bert, by the way, has Steve Yzerman's old locker stall.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Too bad the St. Louis Blues aren't closer to the playoff race. They're 2-0-1 since the deadline and could pass Colorado for ninth place in the West this week. They're now above .500 for the first time since 2003-04 ... Florida has won four games in a row, but needs to sweep three Southeast Division games this week to truly get back in the race ... Going into yesterday, 10 non-playoff teams had more goals than the fifth-seeded Dallas Stars.

THE WEEK AHEAD

The first of four Islanders-Rangers games between now and April 3 is tonight at Madison Square Garden. You can hear the "Ryan sucks" chants already ... A wild West showdown pits Detroit against the Nashville Predators tomorrow.


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