Leafs full of excuses

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Time to warm up the pace car again. Should the parade go up Yonge St. or down University Ave.?

The mighty Maple Leafs have won a game. All is right with the world.

But in the time it took them to win one game on their three-game trip, a dismal 1-0 yawner against the last-place Pittsburgh Penguins, the Florida Panthers won two games.

Even the Panthers, who managed to lose no fewer than 22 of their first 31 games, now are closing in on the Leafs.

Fortunately for Toronto, the management of the New York Islanders, which never leaves any stone unturned in its dauntless quest to follow the wrong course of action, decided to dismantle its team at the trading deadline.

Had it not done so, the Islanders surely would be ahead of the Leafs by now -- just like so many others.

The Atlanta Thrashers, who had to get by with the fourth and fifth goalies on their depth chart for more than two months, also have passed the Leafs. At one point, they were back with the Panthers. They won only 11 of their first 31.

But now, the Leafs have decided that they'll make a playoff surge -- once we accept all their excuses. In the dressing room on Sunday, it often was mentioned that they looked so lethargic because it was their third game in four nights.

No one pointed out that it was also the Penguins' third game in four nights. So if you take that factor out of the equation, then what is the excuse for the Leafs, who are supposedly desperate for a playoff spot, needing a late penalty shot to scratch out a 1-0 victory?

Almost unnoticed in the fuss about the penalty shot and the two blackouts were a couple of salient points.

First Eric Cairns smashed Ben Ondrus into the boards from behind and not one of the Leafs gave any serious indication that this was unacceptable behaviour.

Secondly, on the ensuing five-minute power play, the Leafs didn't get a single shot on goal. At the risk of sounding repetitious, it must be mentioned again that this is a team allegedly desperate for a playoff spot and facing the worst team in the East. Not one shot.

There also is a bigger-picture matter that seems to have slipped by virtually unnoticed.

What happened to the Leafs' Stanley Cup aspirations?

The last time the National Hockey League staged its annual clambake, the Leafs were considered to be a Stanley Cup contender. If not that year, then the next. They were close and they were building. Or so they told us.

Now, all of a sudden, the Leafs are a team trying to convince its fans that making the playoffs and getting drubbed in the first round is a wonderful feat, a heroic achievement of mythic proportion, ranking up there with the labours of Hercules. Then again, if mythical allusions are to be used to explain the way the Leafs have handled this season, perhaps references to Leda and a swan might be more appropriate.

If there is indeed an afterlife where people are forced to atone for their sins, Richard Peddie will be chained to a wall and forced to listen for all eternity to the fans of the Maple Leafs who worship this team and deserve a better fate.

Those fans can file by, one by one for time everlasting, and tell Peddie how they drove to Buffalo or Pittsburgh or Carolina or any of the far-flung regions of the NHL because they can't get to see their team play at home.

They will tell him how they paint their faces, wear their sweaters and chant, "Go, Leafs, Go!" in hostile territory, risking much greater retribution than any of his Leafs inflicted on Cairns.

They will tell him how he dashed their hopes with his series of bad hirings and his misguided attempts to turn his dysfunctional operation into something other than an organization that never once came close to competence.

And they can tell him the route the Stanley Cup parade should have taken -- had they ever seen one in their lifetime.


Videos

Photos