Schedule format irks players, fans

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

Clarke Wilm thinks the whole thing "sucks."

As a native of Saskatchewan and a former member of the Calgary Flames, Wilm is well aware of the legions of Maple Leafs fans sprinkled throughout Western Canada whose loyalty to the blue and white is unwavering.

These are the people, in Wilm's opinion, who are being screwed by the NHL's revised scheduling format, one which dictates that the Leafs now travel to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver only once every three seasons.

The Leafs were scheduled to leave today on a swing through those three cities, beginning with a game against the Flames on Friday. They'll be in Edmonton on Saturday before ending the trip Tuesday in Vancouver.

What bothers Wilm and a number of his teammates is the fact that the Leafs will not make another regular-season trek to Alberta and B.C. until the 2008-09 season, leaving their supporters out West high and dry.

"It does suck that we won't be out there more," Wilm said. "In fact, I think all the Canadian teams should play each other more.

"When I was in Calgary, it always was fun playing Toronto. Whenever the Leafs came to town, you would swear there were as many Leafs fans in the building as there were Flames fans."

Having grown up in Calgary, defenceman Bryan McCabe knows how a visit by the Leafs is a special event in the Stampede City.

"It's very disappointing,"McCabe said. "We used to go out West twice a season, including to my hometown. Now we go once every three years.

"Obviously, we're a huge draw. Most times we are out there half the crowd is cheering for us.

"But it's not our decision. We don't have a choice.That's what the league has decided for us, and that's what we must adhere to."

By increasing the number of games against divisional foes to eight per season, the NHL hoped to boost rivalries throughout the league. But in doing so, it also meant the Leafs have fewer matchups against Western Conference clubs, such as the Flames, Oilers and Canucks.

"I know we would embrace (visiting Western Canada) more often and entertaining those clubs here more often," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "But the league is going with a more divisional approach right now.

"I'm not sure (either) way allows everyone's concerns to be addressed. But there is value in seeing how things play out this year."

In the meantime, Leafs fans in Western Canada had better appreciate the next three games. It will be awhile before they have the chance to see their favourite team play in their town again.


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