Stumpy-mania is over.
At least for the time being.
But even after receiving the news that he would not be offered a contract by the Maple Leafs, a disappointed Steve Thomas left the Air Canada Centre last night with his head held high.
"I think I proved to everyone I can compete at this level," Thomas, 42, said. "It was a great opportunity. It's just too bad I couldn't make it."
For the past three weeks Leafs training camp has primarily been the Great Stumpy Love-in, with droves of fans constantly showing their adulation for the veteran winger who was seeking a third stint in the blue and white. The frenzy reached its peak one afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum when he received a standing ovation as he lined up for the shootout during an intrasquad game.
But after notching just a goal and an assist and going minus-one in six pre-season games, Leafs management didn't feel he fit in at this time.
Having said that, both sides insisted the possibility of Thomas returning has not been extinguished.
"They said that maybe 10 days from now things might change,"said Thomas, who harboured no ill-will toward Leafs management.
"I could tell in my meeting (with them) that it was a difficult decision for them to make. I'm just going to keep working out, stay in shape, and see what happens.
"The fan support was amazing. I can't thank them enough."
Coach Pat Quinn said salary cap issues played into the decision. Thomas is said to have been reluctant to accept a two-way contract.
"In a way (this decision) plays on your heart a little bit. Maybe it will prove to be the wrong decision but it's the one we made," Quinn said.
"Maybe in three weeks if he's with another team, we'll say we wished we had him. Or if he's available, maybe we'll invite him back."
Meanwhile, the Leafs completed their pre-season at 4-4 after defeating the Red Wings for the second consecutive night, this time by a 4-1 score. Young Alex Steen had another strong game and should be in the lineup when the Leafs open the regular season Wednesday against Ottawa.
Perhaps the most promising news that came out of the win were the performances of Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. Allison's hip/groin injury seems to be healed while Lindros showed no after-effects of a oblique muscle ailment when he flattened the Wings' Andreas Lilja in the third period.
"I felt great. I'm ready for the season," Allison said.
With the Leafs not required to submit their final roster until Tuesday, young defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronwall and Andy Wozniewski, who scored his first pre-season goal last night, are expected to accompany the team to Muskoka for its two-day session of hockey and golf.
"It's a dream come true," Wozniewski said.
Too bad Stumpy couldn't make that same claim.