Better than a lump of coal

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Pat Quinn got his Christmas present early this year -- that cumbersome yuletide holiday trip has vanished from the Maple Leafs' 2005-06 schedule.

"It was there every year since I came (in 1998)," Toronto's coach said yesterday as he looked at the 82-game sked for the first time. "We still have to play Boxing Day (at home against New Jersey before heading to Pittsburgh the next night), but to say it's not an improvement would be a lie."

An ice show at the Air Canada Centre used to evict the Leafs for a week after Christmas, cutting short practice time and leaving the team rusty and vulnerable to losing. The Leafs play six times between Dec. 22 and Jan. 2 this year, including New Year's Eve in New Jersey, but three games are at home.

"Overall, there are things I like and things I don't," Quinn said. "We play everyone in our division eight times, which some people might like, but others might want to see other teams."

The Leafs don't play Original Six rivals Chicago or Detroit at all and make their only non-Eastern Conference road trip to play in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Denver, Phoenix and St. Paul in January.

NOT ALL GOOD

"We play 19 times back-to-back, which is (three) more than last year, with a few four-in-six-nights tossed in," Quinn noted. "We play a lot of road games in March (nine) which always seems to be the case. But with 30 teams in the National Hockey League, there are always going to be complaints."

Other notables about the Leafs' schedule:

- They open Oct. 5 at the ACC against the Ottawa Senators.

- The Hall of Fame Game is Nov. 5 against the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Inductee Cam Neely and the late Valeri Kharlamov will be honoured.

- For the first time since 1965-66, Toronto will play consecutive games against the same team in the same venue, Jan. 21 and 23 in Ottawa and at the ACC against the Buffalo Sabres on April 1 and 3.

- Penguins' future star Sidney Crosby does not make his ACC debut until Jan. 2. Pittsburgh also close out the regular season here on April 18.

- If the Leafs make the playoffs, the tentative start is April 21, with the last game of the Stanley Cup final projected for June 17 or 19.


Photos