Leafs players feel for fans

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

Ken Klee sympathizes with diehard Maple Leafs supporters who feel like they've been kneed in the groin.

And he pointed an accusing finger at commissioner Gary Bettman for causing such collective pain.

Why, Klee asked yesterday, would the commish not be more sensitive to the feelings of hockey-crazed Toronto than those found in small-market centres such as Nashville, where indifference to the sport remains noticeable?

"I just feel terrible for our fans," Klee said from his Colorado home, just minutes after Bettman had pulled the plug on the 2004-05 season. "Their passion for the team and the game is amazing.

"Meanwhile the commissioner makes them out to be just another one of 30 teams and that's wrong. They should receive more consideration than some markets where people don't really care anyway. They should not be treated like the Nashvilles or Carolinas of the world.

"That's the problem ... I think the tail is still wagging the dog. The bottom 10 franchises in terms of fan base and passion seem to be controlling what's happened here."

Leafs player rep Bryan McCabe agreed.

"I'm very disappointed for our fans," he said. "They are the best fans in the world. And for us not to have the opportunity to take a run at the Cup in front of them is disappointing.

"Obviously I think there are a handful of successful teams that are in the same boat (as the Leafs) in terms of being frustrated. They are good markets, and now they are paying the price for some of the other (less successful) ones."

Indeed, the days of the Leafs buying talent to stockpile their roster appear to be over. Whenever a new economic system does arrive, general manager John Ferguson will have to rely on strong scouting and an improved farm system.

He is aware of that, too, having doubled the size of the scouting staff with shrewd hires such as former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button.

Still, Ferguson does wonder what might have been had his veteran team had the opportunity to play this season.

"It did appear that the sides were making progress," he said."That's why it's so frustrating.

"We've had a generous payroll in the past but we also knew the rules of this CBA would be different. No doubt we'll have a different team, but we're dedicated to be competitive."


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