Having spent five years on a team that was "blown up," Mark Bell does not think Maple Leafs fans should break out the Semtex just yet.
When Bell played for the Chicago Blackhawks from 2000 to 2006, they made the playoffs only once, saw big-name players disappear, toiled in a half-empty rink on many nights and became nearly invisible on the sports pages of a major sports town.
Only now are the Blackhawks reaping the benefit of years in the wilderness with draft picks such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
"We were always a very young team there and we didn't feel we had a chance to make the playoffs," Bell recalled yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "We were happy to just win a few here and there.
"But here in Toronto, I think we are a playoff team. Yeah, you can look at us winning eight of our first 25 and say that's not the case, but we have the people here that can do the job."
Bell, who was under the media microscope before the season began for his jail sentence (to be served next year) in an alcohol-related crash and a 15-game league suspension, insists he rather would have the attention that comes with being a Leaf.
"It's worse when the media stay away and people don't care," he said. "Here, they're passionate about their team."
Bell will have his hands full tonight in Atlanta if Toronto's No. 1 line stays intact and he draws league-leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk in a match of first units with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"Kovalchuk's not just a shooter (with 19 goals), he's a 25-minute game guy," Bell said. "You have to be physical on him if you can."
Even if the Maple Leafs were to win their final game of the month tonight, this will be their first November with a losing record since the turn of the century: