Bookworm Kyle Wellwood is considered among the most intelligent of Maple Leafs, but he didn't need to read between the lines when coach Paul Maurice announced his lineup for last night.
"He's trying to motivate me, get me in the weight room," Wellwood said as he absorbed being a healthy scratch for the first time in his three-year NHL career.
"Skill players, if they don't bring it, don't look so good. I have to bring it.
"I wasn't that surprised (at getting pulled). Maybe the only two people that aren't surprised by this are me and Paul."
Since losing the past three games, Maurice was wiring all his forward lines for detonation and Wellwood's two points since a seven-game road swing and 6-1 home loss to the Rangers badly stuck out.
"His performance isn't where it needs to be," Maurice said when asked what kind of message he's trying to send the usually creative stickhandling centre. "I think he is healed (from two sports' hernia surgeries), but his conditioning is not where it needs to be.
"I don't think he is the player he was before his surgery last year."
Wellwood was a minus three in one recent game and has just 10 points in 24 games. At one time this year, the Leafs were blaming their deficiencies in areas such as power play on Wellwood's absence.
"We need to score, but we need to have (defensive) balance," Maurice said yesterday.
Maurice planned to go with Mats Sundin, Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov as his primary centres last night, with the option to work in Mark Bell.
Wellwood, whose reduced status saw him banished to a post-practice bag skate with forward John Pohl and defenceman Anton Stralman, might be sitting a few games.