If there were no cracks in Mats Sundin's steadfast desire to remain a Maple Leaf past the trade deadline later this month, a few had to begin to form in that closely cropped head of his last night.
But if that happened, the Toronto captain was not about to acknowledge as much publicly, even after the Leafs were trounced 8-0 by the Florida Panthers in their worst loss since falling to the Ottawa Senators by the same score in October of 2005.
"No, it doesn't matter," Sundin, who had reporters waiting for him 50 minutes after the final buzzer, said when asked if one game would make him reconsider his wish to stay with the Leafs.
After such a brutal setback in such a crucial match, however, one has to wonder whether anything will spur Sundin to go to interim general manager Cliff Fletcher and tell him the no-trade clause in his contract can be forgotten in the days leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
"Everybody who wore that sweater (last night) should be ashamed," Sundin said. "It was embarrassing. I don't have an answer for a game like that."
It's hard to believe that coach Paul Maurice was speaking after the morning skate about how the Leafs had improved defensively in the past couple of weeks. If there was any hope for a push to playoff spot after what clearly was a fluke win against Ottawa on Saturday, it disappeared about as quickly as the fans at the Air Canada Centre, who began streaming for the exits after the second period.
They had just witnessed a stunning and complete collapse by a Leafs team that had outshot the Panthers 13-7 in the first period and were in the game despite being down 1-0. But when the Panthers' Nathan Horton scored 10 seconds into the second period after a Kyle Wellwood miscue (Wellwood had three shifts the rest of the game), the Leafs began to crumble. Defenceman Hal Gill played the puck like a ticking bomb a few minutes later and had it stripped from his stick by Brett McLean. Within the blink of an eye, Olli Jokinen had scored his 200th NHL goal.
"That game got away from us when the puck was dropped to start the second period," Maurice said. "We resorted to pond hockey. Our top-end guys were drastically off and our bottom guys could not help us survive it, but they should not have to. I did not expect that game."
Richard Zednik had a hat trick and Cory Murphy, Steve Montador and McLean also scored. Tomas Vokoun made 24 saves.
With scouts from 14 NHL clubs watching, the Leafs did not play for their coach. And remember, this was against a Panthers team that had just two more points than Toronto, and dressed people such as David Brine, Tanner Glass and Kamil Kreps. Most households could not name them.
Maurice, purple with rage after the Gill giveaway, called a timeout, during which he screamed at his players. For all the good it did, Maurice might as well have turned around and unloaded on the empty platinum seats behind the bench. Murphy scored Florida's fourth goal on its 15th shot less than five minutes later, chasing Vesa Toskala.
Even with 27 games to go, Maurice has to be thinking of his own future. The new GM that eventually is hired undoubtedly will want his own coach, and won't get much of an argument from a Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board that likely will not have seen the playoffs with Maurice running the show.
At this point in a lost season, it's hard to say what the players are playing for. It was not pride last night.
"We have a lot of guys trying to do everything by themselves and we are not a team that can do that," Gill said. "We are little bit shell-shocked."