Leafs collapse indefensible

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.Y. -- John Ferguson probably is getting some phone calls from rival general managers, trying to peddle him a spare defenceman.

But the Maple Leafs boss isn't ready to give up on an in-house solution to replacing four injured blue-liners. Andy Wozniewski underwent successful surgery on a separated shoulder yesterday in Birmingham, Ala., while Pavel Kubina is out until at least November with a strained knee ligament. Already scratched are Brendan Bell and Carlo Colaiacovo.

"I'm not ruling out a deal that makes sense, but we're very confident in the players we have," Ferguson said last night as a patchwork defence took on the New Jersey Devils.

The weakest link going into last night was considered to be Wade Belak, moved back from the fourth line and rotated with the other five. The Leafs already are using two newcomers in Ian White and Jay Harrison. But Belak, who had prepared for this season as a forward when the club signed Kubina and Hal Gill, had a good heart-to-heart with coach Paul Maurice in the morning.

"He told me just go out and play and have fun," Belak said. "You don't want to take things too seriously."

Belak and White had some difficulties early on, a White fumble leading to John Madden's game-opening goal.

Ferguson chuckled when asked if the silver lining in this run of injuries was a chance to see White, Harrison and others under fire.

"If we lose anymore guys it will be a platinum lining," Ferguson said. "But Bell (pre-season ankle bruise) skated again today and he's the closest to returning."

Ferguson would not put a time frame on Wozniewski's recovery, but such injuries usually have a four-month recovery period. Wozniewski will remain in Birmingham a couple days for observation.

"(Forwards) Nik Antropov and Ben Ondrus are at least a couple of days away (from workouts)," Maurice said. "All of the injuries are pain tolerance. I know they'd rather be on the ice with me than working with (strength coach) Matt Nichol in the gym."

Gill was going to be partnered with Kubina, but has done well with White as his primary assistant.

"I think the new guys are ready. White moves into the play well and Harry's a big guy," Gill said. "I would tell them to just keep it simple, especially with everyone in the Toronto media critiquing what they do.

"Defence is the toughest job in the world."


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