Two teams on different paths

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The hand-wringing from a Maple Leafs season gone wrong can be partially dismissed in a statistic that many seem unaware of: The Leafs won precisely the same number of games as the Edmonton Oilers this hockey season.

Same number of regular season wins.

You can look it up.

The Oilers won 41. The Leafs won 41. The Oilers scored 256 goals. The Leafs scored 257. The Oilers made the playoffs by three points in the West. The Leafs missed the playoffs by two points in the East.

One team now is riding the wave, playing for a most unusual Stanley Cup. The other team has fired coaches and scouts and is riddled with questions, trying to figure out exactly what went wrong.

The line in the National Hockey League has become that thin and that blurred, between contender and obsolete, between success and failure. The Leafs weren't supposed to and the Oilers weren't supposed to but one of them somehow is.

One of them did what general manager John Ferguson talked about doing all season long. If you get in the playoffs, he said, anything can happen. And Ferguson has proved to be correct -- anything did happen this Stanley Cup season.

That doesn't, however, make his job any easier right now.

Even in statistical comparison to the Oilers over an 82-game season, some aspects of the Leafs' failures become quite apparent.

Areas that Ferguson and new coach Paul Maurice must address for there to be progress made in the coming season.

The Leafs, for example, were among the worst five-on-five scoring teams in the NHL. They finished 27th among 30 teams in that area with only 122 goals over 82 games. That becomes especially troubling when you consider they were first in the league in five-on-three situations and seventh in league scoring with a one-man advantage.

They didn't have enough speed, finesse or playmaking to be able to score goals off the rush, which has become increasingly evident while watching teams win in the playoffs.

That means you have to say goodbye to Jason Allison, factor in Eric Lindros only if he plays for food, and try to find another centre and another winger somewhere who can make a difference.

And if that isn't the first area that needs attention, it certainly is in the top three.

POOR SHOOTING RATIO

The Leafs have to address their shooting ratio, which is part of their overall game: They were 25th in the league in shots for, 22nd in shots against. Yes, their goaltending was spotty until Jean-Sebastien Aubin took over, but their team defensive play proved troubling as well.

The Oilers, by example, allowed the fewest shots on goal in the league. They were playing decent defensively before Dwayne Roloson arrived on the scene: The scores just didn't necessarily reflect that.

So the Leafs begin with their No. 1 pair of Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe -- $10 million US worth of defencemen one year after missing the playoffs at a combined salary of $5.6 million -- and with not much else. This is where Oilers management has it all over the Leafs.

Never mind that Chris Pronger will be making Mats Sundin money next season -- he deserves it. The Oilers have Jason Smith at $1.9 million, Steve Staios at $1.6 million and Marc-Andre Bergeron at $931,000 for the coming year.

The asking price for free-agent defencemen who might interest the Leafs, such as Pavel Kubina, Jay McKee, Ruslan Salei and Filip Kuba, will start at about $3 million a year. Last summer, teams got overzealous bidding for free-agent defencemen Adam Foote, Adrian Aucoin, Vladimir Malakhov, Sergei Gonchar, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, with salaries ranging from $3.5 million to $5 million.

Now, the Leafs have approximately $14 million to spend on seven players. They need four frontline additions -- two forwards, two defencemen -- either by signing, trade or development.

Last summer, the Oilers were creative in acquiring Pronger and Mike Peca, taking stock of contracts other teams didn't want. Ferguson has yet to display any kind of managerial creativity.

The right moves this summer can put the Leafs back in the playoffs. And after that, as the Oilers are demonstrating, anything is possible.

JAYS VS. SOX

Buying out Tie Domi would cost the Leafs $833,000 US. Replacing him on the fourth line will cost a minimum of $450,000. In other words, the Leafs would be paying more to replace him ($1.28 million) than to keep him ($1.25 million).

TIE-CONOMICS

The Blue Jays have won seven of 11 games against the Red Sox this season but it hasn't helped them much in the standings. The Sox are playing .674 baseball against the rest of the AL. The Jays are only playing .545 against teams not named Boston.

NIK NEGOTIATIONS

Another Maple Leaf question: What to do with restricted free agent Nik Antropov? At $1 million US last season, he was neither underpaid nor overpaid, just limited offensively and always injured. If they can't trade him, re-signing him would be a mistake.


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