Leafs' misery adds company

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

The day dawned bright and sunny yesterday, except over Lakeshore Lions Arena where the dark cloud that has hung over the Maple Leafs was once again in evidence.

They can't stay out of the penalty box. They can't stay out of the public's doghouse. They can't stay out of the loss column. The only place they consistently have been able to make a positive impression is on the magnetic resonance imaging machine printouts.

Yesterday it was Darcy Tucker, who missed practice and then announced he would be sidelined indefinitely with undetermined ligament damage in his right knee.

So, let's review on what general manager John Ferguson Jr. has staked his future:

a) A leading scorer who could walk up to Methuselah and say, "Hey, kid ..."

b) A No. 2 centre who, through no fault of his own, suffers a groin injury every time he ties his laces.

c) A candidate for MADD poster boy of the year.

d) Carlo Colaiacovo, the best defensive defenceman nobody has ever seen.

This team is attracting more calamity than the average meadow muffin collects flies.

Tucker and coach Paul Maurice both said the injury occurred in the third period of a 6-4 loss Saturday to the Chicago Blackhawks, although there had been speculation since early September that Tucker wasn't his usual truculent, snit-disturbing self.

"I think it happened early in the third period along the boards. But it wasn't that big a thing," Tucker said yesterday. "I played the rest of the game. I went home. It wasn't until the next morning that it was swelling and really sore."

He underwent an MRI Sunday. "We'll have to wait three or four days until the swelling goes down, but right now we think it's not a surgery issue, it's a rehab issue," Maurice said.

It is the latest setback in what has been anything but a banner start to the season for Tucker or his team.

"Hopefully we'll get a brace made and I can come back fairly quickly. I've always been pretty good in being able to come back from these kinds of things," said Tucker, who in nine games this year has just one goal and four assists. He refused to blame injury for any of his perceived shortcomings, although he did get a hint this summer that there might be trouble ahead.

"I'd felt something during training but it wasn't that bad," he said.

Maurice said the team hadn't noticed anything adverse in camp. "I felt that his skating was better than ever -- his stride was nice and long. Darcy felt good but everyone has different pain thresholds. I think if someone did a top-to-bottom MRI on Darcy he would have 50 different issues. A lot of times he just plays through them."

He was, according to Maurice, just the usual Darcy -- who as one reporter of the feminine persuasion noted yesterday had a puffy lip that Melanie Griffith was to die for, almost making him blush.

But, to be honest, he has not been the "usual" Darcy, that impact player he was at the end of last season, when he came back from a broken foot to all but will the Maple Leafs into a playoff spot. How much of that is circumstantial and how much of it is a dropoff in performance is debatable. There have been games when he has been virtually invisible.

If nowhere else, Tucker always could be counted on to show up at the penalty box. This year, he has made Alex Steen and Matt Stajan look like goons: Both have more penalty minutes. In the real Darcy world, that just couldn't happen. Not that this has been entirely Tucker's doing, or undoing. His role has changed. He's mostly playing on the third line and has given up prime power-play time to Jason Blake, which is a little like giving a guy a couple lines in a movie and then expecting him to come out looking like Brad Pitt.

"The main thing is it'll need rest and treatment and then I'll try to come back at 100%," Tucker said. "If I try to play at less than 100% you're not doing anyone, including the team, a favour."

He's right, and the evidence -- if not a complete confirmation -- of that, some believe, is there to be seen in the first nine games.


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