Nothing brightened up the Maple Leafs dressing room more than yesterday's Kyle Wellwood sighting.
The club's No. 2 centre participated in the game day skate, three weeks after a second surgery on a sports hernia, but he's another week or so away from returning to the lineup. It has been a frustrating year for Wellwood, who at first tried to play through the lower abdominal injury and then thought only one procedure would be needed.
"There were bones grinding, so they had to go in there and re-assess, tighten things up," Wellwood said of the latest operation.
After missing 33 games last season, Wellwood came to camp determined to make up for lost time. But he lasted just one exhibition game before a different specialist had to go in. Muddying the picture were comments from Wellwood's father that he didn't adhere to the off-season training program assigned by the club.
"No problems so far," Wellwood said yesterday. "I began skating (by himself) four or five days ago but I've lost four pounds and I have to build that up again."
Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo also has resumed light skating after knee pain persisted following arthroscopic surgery in the spring.
Alexei Ponikarovsky, out with an ankle injury, could return to the lineup tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabres.
PENS PAID THE PRICE
Between 2002-06, the Pittsburgh Penguins missed the playoffs, failed to win 30 games, but reaped a number of prized draft picks including Sidney Crosby. Today, they're poised as Cup contenders.
While the Leafs' future would be better off with the Pens' roster now, people such as ex-GM Pat Quinn stated years ago Toronto fans and management would not have stomached the futility the Pens endured, even a last-place finish would not guarantee picking a Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or in two years, John Tavares.
"Pittsburgh has one of the best young teams in the league, but they paid a price," defenceman Bryan McCabe said. "No one tries to finish last, but it paid off in the end for them. We have good young players, too. We just have to get our ship pointed in the right direction."
Before last night, Mats Sundin was hoping to get a point in his sixth straight game, continuing his run at the team record for longest scoring streak to start the season. It's eight games, held jointly by John Anderson (10 points in eight games in 1982), Lanny McDonald (10 in eight in '76) and Frank Mahovlich (nine in 10 in '61).
TIME HAS CHANGED FOR GILL
Leafs defencman Hal Gill on why Crosby is so difficult in today's NHL: "I used to jump on Mario's back and made him carry me around. I did the same thing to Sundin. Those days are over and you have to use your ice and space and take it away from them as much as you can."