Darcy Tucker looked the part of playoff participant yesterday, greeting members of the media in workout sweats and with a couple of fresh scars on his face.
But on a day the Maple Leafs showed up at the Air Canada Centre for end-of-season meetings with coach Pat Quinn and to clean out their lockers, Tucker could only lament the club's missing the playoffs.
And though Tucker, 31, had his best season in the NHL from an offensive standpoint with 61 points (28 goals and 33 assists), it did not mean much to him.
"Winning the championship is all you really look forward to as you get older," Tucker said. "As a young guy you want to score as many goals as you can and get as many points as you can. But you look around the dressing room as you get older and you see the faces of some guys who have been around the league a long time and weren't able to win a championship, and it is tough to look them in the eye and see them not go into the playoffs."
Few players wear their heart on their sleeve like Tucker does. His critics will point to his diving and on-ice theatrics as drawbacks, but there aren't many who are as tough, pound for pound, as the Alberta native. He will need some rest during the next few weeks to let a rib injury heal and acknowledged the Leafs' failure to get into the post-season will eat at him all summer.
"We're going to reflect on what has gone on here, but the sting of this is going to last more than a couple of weeks," Tucker said. "It's a large off-season for a lot of guys in our dressing room. We didn't fulfill our goals, and with that comes disappointment and a lot of blame lies with us."
Slated to make $1.596 million US next season, Tucker will be a bargain if he is able to replicate the season he just had. But rocking the boat and trying to get more money out of the Leafs is something that he would not consider. Also, he took time to give prospective free agents something to think about this summer if they have the Leafs in mind.
"I signed a contract and my obligation is to come back here and play under those (conditions)," Tucker said. "I think it is our obligation as players to let it be known that (playing in Toronto, with all the media attention) it is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. There are some really good positives about playing in this city and hopefully we can make sure people around the league know it."