Buds go back to the drawing board

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

There is a slim possibility, Leafs fans, that your club could win the Stanley Cup in the next decade.

You just need your scabs to be better than the scabs for the other 29 teams.

No city wants a Stanley Cup more fervently. No city pays more for the privilege of hope. And now, no city is farther away from hosting the big parade.

As a wordsmith far more erudite than I once wrote, "sha-na-na-na, sha-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey ..."

Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., is a company guy so it wasn't a shock that he did the company-guy thing yesterday. He took one for the team.

"My job is to champion the point of view of the Maple Leafs," Peddie said in the team's farewell news conference at the ACC, "but it kept coming back to what is good for the league."

The Leafs will lose more revenue than any team in the league. They needed a lockout like Hugh Hefner needs another blonde.

With a soft cap in the low $40-million US range and the 24% rollback offered by the players, the Maple Leafs would have returned a team that had a chance of reaching the Stanley Cup final and cut its losses to boot.

Now, that window isn't just closed, it has been blown out in nuclear winter.

"Everything starts anew," NHLPA chief Bob Goodenow said yesterday, and doesn't that make you want to buy your strychnine by the kilo.

Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, unsigned past this spring and both 38, are done by virtue of age and salary. Take your choice.

Brian Leetch. History, after 28 games in blue and white. Alexander Mogilny. Gone. For those of you keeping score, that's four of the team's top six players now destined for parts unknown.

Maybe the union and management can get together this summer. Maybe Paris Hilton will get her MENSA card.

Consider that scenario. The 24% rollback tendered by the players, remember, is now off the table so we are back to the 100-cent dollar.

Mats Sundin is scheduled to make $9 million U.S. in 2005-2006. Owen Nolan's is on tap for another $6.5 million. Ed Belfour will earn $6 million. That's $21.5 million for three players with only Sundin likely to be on hand for the second part of the decade. With a fraction of the usual revenues available, you can knock off another $10 million from the salary cap total the owners will take. That's a cap somewhere in the low-to-mid $30-million range, already reserved for three players.

The Leafs have long been able to bury their mistakes under a mountain of cash. But under the new, fiscally responsible NHL the league is prepared to starve itself so that kind of behaviour will be as passe as tight jeans.

It's not like the team has a new wave of talent to revitalize the franchise.

Matt Stajan, Alexander Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo can play video hockey but they're never going to have their faces on the box.

NOT TO WORRY

Not to worry, Peddie and general manager John Ferguson Jr. said. For the past year or so, they have been preparing for a new reality. They have put more money into scouting. They are investing in a new training centre.

"Our ability to buy players will be, if not eliminated, then reduced," Peddie said. "We've started to work on a building instead of buying model."

That model has been in place for less than a year and so forgive the cynic for wondering whether more scouts and a swankier training centre is a handy replacement for, you know, good players.

It wasn't enough that the Leafs were as welcome as rain on the prairie because they packed every arena in the country. Nor did it count that they were apparently willing to fork over a portion of the take to prop up teams in cities where the NHL had no business operating.

The Maple Leafs built their own arena. They are worthy corporate citizens who run a good shop. As of yesterday, the penalty for aspiring for excellence has been revised to a kick in the teeth.


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