Crease games leaves Leafs looking bad

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

Begin with this premise: Paul Maurice is not obligated to announce his starting goaltender for any Maple Leafs game this season.

It isn't mandated. There are no rules of disclosure. This isn't, after all, the National Football League.

If Maurice doesn't choose to tip his hand, believing he is giving his team something of an edge by being secretive, that's his business.

It's foolish business, but it's his call, assuming he's not under orders.

But the complications begin to get circus-like when his business and our business and your business -- your right to know -- clash, just as they did before Wednesday's home opener against Ottawa.

This is when the premise of having two goaltenders, but not a carved-in-stone starter, can get complicated and messy in this crazily obsessed hockey market.

In keeping to his word, the normally forthright Leafs coach did not announce his starting goalie for the opener but avidly invited the enormous gathering of media, who cover every breath the Leafs take on a daily basis, to take in the morning skate so they, on their own, could determine the starter.

And that determination was made rather basic when Andrew Raycroft announced he would be the guy in Game 1. When asked to confirm Raycroft's own pronouncement, Maurice chose to decline.

That, too, was silly.

It may have been fine for Raycroft, who seems more comfortable in his own skin in his second season in Toronto.

But it wasn't necessarily fine for Vesa Toskala, the starter in waiting, who was brought to Toronto to take Raycroft's job and figured that had to be the plan when the Leafs traded away a chunk of the future and then threw long-term money at him before he made his debut last night in Ottawa.

The job was his; all he had to do was not lose it. Instead, a somewhat tight Toskala, coming off a less than stellar training camp and exhibition season, was put in a position to answer why he wasn't playing, even though the coach hadn't announced who was starting.

That goalies are even available to speak on game days is unique enough. A whole lot of them don't. In fact, like starting pitchers in baseball, most don't do pre-game interviews on the days they are handed the ball.

Toskala is new to all this. He comes from San Jose, where most people don't know who the goalies are, let alone care.

You want to disappear in your own neighbourhood? Play for the San Jose Sharks.

Toskala got to start his first game last night, away from most of the local cameras, on the road where the questions and the booing are less but the on-ice heat can at times be more extreme. There is no right answer as to how Maurice should balance two goalies who have yet to establish themselves as clear-cut No. 1 choices.

But what Maurice -- or maybe the goalies themselves, for their own preservation -- should insist upon is a set manner in which the starter is named and the public is informed.

This is where the Leafs media relations team should come in. This is why senior vice-president of communications John Lashway has a fancy title and a large office: To deal with situations when they arise that don't necessarily have a clear answer.

Media consultants will tell you to "feed the beast," which in layman's terms means providing information to the media, rather than leave them guessing.

A fed beast, the media minds tell you, doesn't go looking for controversy. A hungry beast does.

Typically, the Leafs do this backward. They leave the beast starving and maybe, in a twisted way, in this market, it works in their favour.

But that can't be their intention here. Paul Maurice should be told he's handling this improperly.

And after all these years of tripping over himself, hasn't John Ferguson learned that one basic message as the man in charge of all this?


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