There's little to cheer here

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

"It's not enough that I succeed. Others must fail."

Author Gore Vidal is famous for that quote and boy, does it strike to the heart of what it meant to be a Maple Leafs fan.

This has been one of the worst ever weeks for the Leafs, who in four crushing days have seen their spot near the top of the NHL food chain completely destroyed.

First, puny afterthoughts in the Florida Panthers gobbled up valuable vets Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. Honestly, what is happening in the universe when two of the most prized players in the Maple Leafs dressing room ditch the team for the Florida friggin' Panthers?

And Chris Pronger ... an Edmonton Oiler, via trade no less. How would Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe know how to do the paperwork on a trade of that magnitude, let alone operate the telephone? The Oilers hadn't swung a major deal since they got Doug Weight from the New York Rangers.

Scott Niedermayer in Anaheim. Tony Amonte in Calgary. Adam Foote in Columbus. This was not supposed to happen.

In case anyone has lost track, it has been 38 years since the Stanley Cup was paraded down Yonge Street.

Naturally then, Leafs fans have found an alternate avenue for fulfilment. Its essence can be found in a story about two guys who come across an angry grizzly bear.

"What do we do?" the first guy says.

"Run," says the second.

"Don't be ridiculous" the first guy says. "We can't outrun a grizzly."

"I don't have to outrun a grizzly," says the second guy. "I only have to outrun you."

It was enough for Leafs fans to be the best team in Canada, the Flames' recent trifling playoff run notwithstanding. Leafs fans, emboldened by the status of their team, invaded foreign rinks and outshouted the locals in Ottawa and Carolina and Buffalo and yes, Florida. They deployed garrisons of Leafs supporters for games in Canadian cities.

If the Maple Leafs weren't sniffing around the best players from Canadian clubs, they were lifting quality free agents elsewhere.

The Leafs used their free agent clout wisely. Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts and Alexander Mogilny all delivered substantial dividends. Why not? With competition restricted to half a dozen free-spending clubs, then-Leafs GM Pat Quinn was shooting fish in a barrel.

Then came the the week from H-E-double hockey sticks.

While new Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. was being shown the door by agents of all stripes, Bob Clarke masterfully retooled the Philadelphia Flyers by trolling in free agents Mike Rathje and Derian Hatcher before adding the superb, if concussion-prone, Peter Forsberg. The Flyers, who eliminated Toronto in consecutive playoffs, are whizzing in a different direction than Toronto and doesn't that grate in the centre of the hockey universe?

OTHERS GIDDY

Meanwhile, other fans are giddy across Canada, their clubs having retained Jarome Iginla in Calgary and Markus Naslund in Vancouver. The Senators are so stacked they need only trot out what they already have. And the Montreal Canadiens landed Alexei Kovalev as they continue to retool.

And in Toronto? Tie Domi has re-signed but Brian Leetch, Roberts and Nieuwendyk are gone and the club's other unrestricted free agent, Mogilny, almost certainly will follow.

So what is left for Ferguson to salvage? Well, free agents Roman Hamrlik, Scott Lachance and Glen Wesley would help on the blue line.

Help at forward is most likely to come from Jason Allison. But the pool of available talent consists of greying types such as Teemu Selanne and Eric Lindros.

So far the Leafs, ensnared by the salary cap, have barfed up a goose egg and there's not much left.

It just goes to show you. Austerity is a terrible thing when imposed on those not used to it.


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