Put up your dukes

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

A perfect storm is brewing for one of the rougher Maple Leafs training camps in recent years.

The team has missed the playoffs three consecutive years, there's a new sheriff and deputies behind the bench, the general manager has said flat out the team lacks "bite," they've added some players who are handy with their dukes and one minor-league rogue as well.

The question is whether Cliff Fletcher and Ron Wilson will ignite the whole works by encouraging players to push the envelope when scrimmages start tomorrow and a nine-game exhibition schedule begins Monday.

"Well, I think it better be a competitive camp," GM Fletcher said last night as the Leafs readied for team medicals this morning. "The players want to show a new coach what they can do.

"I'd prefer to watch hockey instead of fights, if I can. We're all there to evaluate the players. But if something spontaneous happens in our workouts, it happens. (Fights) with players on other teams (the Buffalo Sabres are here on Monday), well, that's a little different."

The 5-foot-10 Wilson used his wits more than his fists in his playing career, but is known for icing a mean team. His San Jose Sharks were the NHL's biggest outfit last year, averaging 6-foot-2, 216 pounds. And he has one of the league's most intimidating mugs beside him every night, assistant coach Tim Hunter.

A few years ago, the Leafs not only had a tall team, but tended to play big. Skill Leafs felt safe with bodyguards such as Tie Domi, Wade Belak, Gary Roberts and Darcy Tucker. Mats Sundin had better protection than George Bush.

But when the last of the old guard disappeared, Belak traded and Tucker worn down by injuries, the Leafs had big players who could check, but no enforcer or antagonist to counter other clubs.

Fletcher brought in wingers Ryan Hollweg (96 penalty minutes last year with the Rangers) and Jamal Mayers (91 in St. Louis), who not only can hit, but had 13 fights between them according to hockeyfights.com. Belak and Tucker accounted for 10 of the 25 fights the Leafs were involved in last season, ranking Toronto 28 of 30 teams in overall bouts, according to the site.

But before getting too zealous on the topic, Stanley Cup champion Detroit had 21 fights, the least of any team and more than three times fewer than league-leading Calgary's 70.

Fletcher sees Hollweg and Mayers as "energy players" first and scrappers second.

"You don't have to play Ryan a lot, but he's a great one to make contact (in a quiet game)," Fletcher said. "Jamal has good speed and remember, he was selected to Team Canada at the world championships twice, ahead of some good players. He loves to get in on the forecheck, too."

Just to spice things up, the Leafs have signed 6-foot-4, 240-pound Andre Deveaux from the Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves. Deveaux had 18 points and 232 penalty minutes last season, including 14 bouts according to hockeyfights.com.

A native of Freeport, Bahamas, Deveaux was a fourth-round pick of the Habs in 2002, with minor-league stops for Tampa Bay and Atlanta.


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