Study in contradictions

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

The postmortem on the 2006-07 Maple Leafs will read: Death by contradictions.

As in the following:

A goaltender, Andrew Raycroft, who tied the team record for wins still made many shudder on routine shots and puck-handling.

A decent back-up, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who didn't see meaningful action until halfway through Game 82.

A group of defencemen upgraded by more than $10 million US in contracts whose brightest lights included two kids, Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo, who hardly were on the radar at the start of camp.

BIG ZERO

A point-a-game top scorer, Mats Sundin, with no goals in his final 12 games.

A team with an injury-wracked lineup that went 10-4 in a crucial stretch after New Year's Day out-performed a near-healthy roster from mid-March onwards.

A team that put a premium on conditioning at training camp, but led the league in man games lost to injury.

A team that stressed discipline was 11th highest in short-handed situations and fourth-worst in penalty killing.

A team that vowed a better account of itself in shootouts duplicated its seven-loss record from 2005-06.

A team that showed resiliency to win 11 of 18 games right after a loss of three or more goals couldn't win three in a row after Feb. 6.

A team that claimed to have the best dressing room mix of veterans and youth in years lacked one take-charge guy.

A general manager who traded a good defence prospect for the NHL faceoff leader watched as the latter was kept on the fourth line and out of some key draws.

A team that considers itself the NHL's flagship franchise has one playoff series win the past four years.

Add it up and the Leafs missed the playoffs by a point.

"I still can't believe we're not on the ice today," forward John Pohl said as the Leafs met yesterday at the Air Canada Centre for one-on-one interviews with coach Paul Maurice and general manager John Ferguson.

Without going into specifics, Maurice mentioned he will do some things differently in 2007-08.

"We need to improve in some areas no matter who comes back," the coach said. "We're not a great defensive team yet, but only six other teams gave up fewer shots on goal.

"It will take three or four weeks to separate the grief (from the optimism of next year). I enjoyed (his first year behind the Leafs bench). There is no other place in the world like this to work in."

Maurice said any attempt to trace the playoff setback to the shootout losses or other self-induced calamity can't be done without mentioning a like number of games the under-manned Leafs won when they no business doing so.

"You miss by a point, then every single point given away is the reason," he said.

Said winger Darcy Tucker: "It wasn't the amount of injuries this year, it was the length of time guys were out."

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LOOKING AHEAD TO 2007-08

GOALTENDERS

- Andrew Raycroft, $2 million

Various gaffes aside, has been told to plan for 65 to 70 starts next year.

- Jean-Sebastien Aubin, UFA

Won't be used much and won't get a raise, but jobs are scarce elsewhere.

DEFENCEMEN

- Wade Belak, $625,000

The Leafs' utility man earns his cheque.

- Carlo Colaiacovo, RFA

Masterton Trophy nominee matured and stayed healthy in the second half.

- Hal Gill, $2.075 million

Not overly physical for a big man, but a strong penalty killer.

- Tomas Kaberle, $4.25 million

Best Leaf on the breakout and easily best defenceman. Have we mentioned he should shoot more?

- Pavel Kubina, $5 million

Not as great as advertised for his price, but not a total washout.

- Bryan McCabe, $7.15 million

Consistent offensive numbers, but flawed in other areas and did not live up to big contract.

- Ian White, RFA

Great strides this year, teamed effectively with Gill.

- Andy Wozniewski, $500,000

Best defenceman at 2006 camp will challenge again.

FORWARDS

- Nik Antropov, UFA

Beat the injury bug, but how much will the Leafs pay?

- Bates Battaglia, UFA

Ressurrected his career under old boss Paul Maurice; might not get that chance elsewhere.

- Boyd Devereaux, UFA

Parlayed a stint with the Marlies and injuries in Toronto to a new start.

- Travis Green, UFA

Mid-season pick-up would have to be kept at the expense of a younger Leaf.

- Chad Kilger, $800,000

Lost some scoring touch, but improved as a hitter.

- Kris Newbury, $475,000

Other candidates for the energy line will press him at camp.

- Jeff O'Neill, UFA

Scored 20, ended up benched. Might stay, but will seriously look elsewhere.

- Michael Peca, UFA

Broken leg ruined potential for a great homecoming.

- Yanic Perreault, UFA

Faceoff specialist has the luxury to shop around.

- John Pohl, $475,000

Important year ahead to establish himself as full-fledged NHLer.

- Alexei Ponikarovsky, RFA

Due a decent raise after two 21-goal seasons.

- Matt Stajan, $950,000

Made himself a better defensive player.

- Alex Steen, $870,180

Roared out of first-half slump.

- Mats Sundin, $4,560,000

Unlikely to go another 82 games without passing Darryl Sittler in franchise goals and points.

- Darcy Tucker, $3 million

Numbers dipped after new contract, but he'll be healthy in the autumn.

- Kyle Wellwood, $950,000

Opposing coaches are circling his name.

STAFF

- Coach Paul Maurice

Made his honeyoon last 82 games, but better make the playoffs.

- General manager John Ferguson

Will his 'plan' be given enough time to unfold?

(Salaries in U.S. dollars for 2007-08)


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