Teetering on hockey's abyss

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Fire the coach! Draw and quarter the ##%%&&())$ general manager!

Trade Sundin! Bench McCabe! Andrew Raycroft is Judas reincarnate!

In the words of that great philosopher, Chicken Little, the sky is falling, which goes to prove only one thing: It must be hockey season in Toronto.

"It is crazy but I'd rather have people worried about what's going on with the team than not," Sundin said after last night's 4-3 loss to Montreal, Toronto's seventh loss in its past eight home games.

Fans are incensed. Media is in a frenzy.

The dressing room was filled to capacity -- wall to wall cameras, radio guys with recorders and scribes poised to record players' viewpoints on the franchise's latest flirtation with disaster.

"When things are not going right there are going to be things said about you, or written about you, that you don't like but that's part of being a professional athlete," said Sundin, whose 400th career goal temporarily tied the game.

Every society has its dilemmas. Egypt had pestilence, America had the great depression, Europe was visited by the bubonic plague and Toronto has a hockey team that can't keep from shooting itself in the foot.

If you think that's an exaggeration, you've never listened to a call-in show or visited the ACC in the middle of a four-game losing streak.

It's emotional insanity. Fans say its passion but it smells more like obsession run amok.

Jason Blake sat in the dressing room yesterday morning with a look registering somewhere between bemused and disbelief as players were asked about general manager John Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice.

Sundin wasn't certain whether last night was help or hindrance to his beleaguered bosses.

"You're asking the wrong guy. We can't blame coaches and managers. We have to be responsible for what we're doing. We have a chance to be a good team, a playoff team. We can't worry about what happens off the ice."

What's happening, Maurice said, is everything he expected. Okay, maybe more. The adulation. The deprecation. The innuendo.

"(The Leafs' job) is not something you just hop into out of the blue,'' he said. "It's not that it doesn't affect you.

"I can't say I could stand here on my first day and say that it's exactly what I expected. But it's part of the job.

"It's an awesome job ... All the challenges that come with it. It changes daily.

"It keeps you up some nights but it sure gets you out of bed in the morning.''

If he's concerned about being fired, it doesn't show. "He's still the same guy. He's a pretty intense individual," Chad Kilger said. "He's going about business like he did from Day 1."

History suggests firing Ferguson or Maurice is not going to provide instant solutions. This team has tried going in that direction more often than a dog on a one-fire hydrant street. Since 1967 the Leafs have had 17 coaches, 20 if interim stints are included. The team has had eight GMs, including three in the past decade.

All that panic; all that angst and what has it gotten them? "What's going on is that we're playing like (crap)," Kilger said. "We're not doing what we need to do."

Last night they came close.

"As players we're fortunate to be in a market like Toronto where the fans really care and everyone's frustrated. So are we," said Sundin. "When things are not going well in Toronto this (controversy) is what happens. As players you have to focus."

But can players ignore it.

In the Habs dressing room, Roman Hamrlik is asked for an impartial opinion.

"Players worry more about their game than rumours about coaches and GMs,'' he said

"In Tampa I had Terry Crisp and he was let go and I got Jacques Demers. He gave me more chance to play but a couple months later I was gone to Edmonton. I was always a bit upset about leaving Tampa but in Edmonton I got more chance to play.

"It can be both good and bad and you never know which ahead of time."

Worse? It can get worse? That's it. Where's the nearest ledge?


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