Numbers don't add up for Maple Leafs

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

There are a lot of ways to try to explain the lousy spot the Maple Leafs find themselves in, but none of them is more eloquent than simple math.

With 22 games remaining, the Leafs are in 11th place in the NHL's Eastern Conference standings, seven points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who own the eighth and last playoff spot.

If you subscribe to the 90-point theory -- that being it takes at least 90 points to make the playoffs -- then the Leafs will have to win 16 of those 22 games. For some teams, that would be achievable, but not likely for a Leafs team that has won just three of its past 18.

The Canadiens can get to that level by playing about .500 hockey the rest of the way.

The Canadiens, by the way, are in the midst of a five-game trip. They haven't been all that strong away from home but, on this trip, they have a couple of wins. When they get back home next week, they will have 20 games remaining, 14 of them in the friendly confines of the Bell Centre where they have 16 wins, seven defeats and four losses in overtime.

The 90-point level represents a bare minimum to get to the playoffs. In this season where every game produces a winner and where overtime games produce a point for the loser, it's possible a team might need as many as 95 points to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament.

Whatever it takes, eventually, the odds are overwhelmingly against that team being the Maple Leafs. They played their best game in weeks last night and still lost 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators and are now 0-for-7 against their Ontario rivals this season.

The Leafs will try to gather themselves for the game Tuesday when the Habs come to town. It is a large game for this team, yet even a win doesn't get them much.

"Yeah, it's huge for us and we've got to get ready for it," said Kyle Wellwood. "But even if we win the game, there are 15 or 16 more that we have to win if we expect to make it."

In a post-game dressing room that reeked of doom, Eric Lindros, eyes glistening with moisture, announced he is having surgery next week on the wrist ligament that has been plaguing him since early December. He reinjured the wrist taking a vicious slapshot in the second period and didn't come back for the third.

Coach Pat Quinn searched for words that would explain what has happened to his team, but even he seemed lost.

Indeed, on the 10th anniversary of the firing of Pat Burns by then-GM Cliff Fletcher, Quinn's job may have been on the line as well. It has been a matter of conjecture this week that Quinn's players may have tuned him out, and that's the death knell for any coach.

This loss also brings the team closer to the reality it is going to be dismantled and rebuilt to try to better reflect that kind of game being played in the post-lockout NHL.

With just a few days remaining before the trade deadline, the Leafs were teetering between being buyers or sellers. Now the scale surely has tipped in favour of GM John Ferguson being a seller during this week's meat market.

But just what does he have to sell?

He's hamstrung by a lot of hefty contracts -- many of them negotiated by himself -- that will be hard for many teams to digest under the league's new salary cap. He's also limited because most of the players he has to offfer are unsuited to the game as it's being played these days.

Meanwhile, the grim reality of a spring without any meaningful games to play is settling in on the shoulders of some very proud members of the Maple Leafs.

"We think about it every day," a dejected Darcy Tucker said. "That's what we live for is to be in the playoffs. It obviously has been on our minds every day.

"We thought we played a strong game tonight. We carried the play, especially in the second period but we couldn't get that go-ahead goal. Then, in the third period, their game-breakers won it for them."

Left unsaid in that synopsis is the fact Toronto's game-breakers couldn't make it happen, and haven't made it happen for a good long time.

And most probably won't make it happen.


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