Fun with your Leafs

Vesa Toskala might be a sleeper pick for your fantasy team. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

Vesa Toskala might be a sleeper pick for your fantasy team. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

So, you're a Maple Leafs fan. You have the foam finger. Somewhere in the house is a light fixture with a Leafs logo. At night, you rest on a team pillow and dream of Stanley Cups. You think patriotism is clipping one of those little blue flags to your car window.

You have everything necessary to start the season. Everything, that is, except a real NHL team.

Watching the Leafs this season will be an exercise akin to building Rome. It won't happen in a day, or even a year. Reconstructing a pro sports team is a painstaking process. Need confirmation? See the Rogers Centre where J.P. Ricciardi's five-year rebuilding scheme soon will be closing in on a decade.

Not that anyone's counting, right?

Still, it's better than last year when all that the Leafs did, much like those same Romans, was make an ash of themselves. There is hope where before there only were inflated contracts.

But, if the Leafs aren't going to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard most periods, how can true-blue fans maintain sanity and keep from pitching the garbage can (engrained with Leafs logo, of course) through the wide-screen TV.

First, forget the standings. They should come with a warning, like cigarettes: Using them can be harmful to your mental health.

Ditto the scoreboard. Don't look. Game scores must be treated as if it were Timbit hockey. They don't matter. All that matters is that the players work hard and improve. Frustrating, yes. But you are Leafs fans. Disappointment sticks like stir-fry on Teflon. Work with me on this.

Now, with Mats Sundin still pulling petals off a flower and playing "They love me, they love me not," there's tittle-tattle about who should become captain. A more ominous appointment has not been made since someone tapped Edward John Smith on the shoulder and said: "Congratulations, captain. Here are the keys to the Titanic."

But take heart. There are things to cheer about:

1. I DREAM OF JOHNNY

John Tavares. Or a half-dozen other junior players. Go to an OHL game. See the Leafs of the future. If Washington could wait for Alexander Ovechkin and Pittsburgh could wait for Sidney Crosby, Leafs fans can suck it up until draft day when a Toronto GM to be named later announces: "The Maple Leafs select John Tavares ..."

This year, cheering for the Senators, Habs or Panthers, etc., isn't necessarily a bad idea. Distasteful, perhaps. But not dumb.

2. ME FIGHT GOOD

Cheer Ryan Hollweg doing his Darcy (Watch Me Run Through This Brick Wall) Tucker routine. You've gotta admire his spunk, although if he keeps hitting other guys' fists with his chin, he'll have a face the Leafs could rent out on Halloween.

3. GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Luke Schenn. Rookie of the year, anyone? Maybe not. But even if he ends up back in junior, watching him develop has to be more fun than watching Bryan McCabe deke out his own goaltender.

4. I'D LIKE TO BUY A VOWEL

Hold a spelling bee: First one to get Mikhail Grabovski, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nikolai Kulemin correct without tripping over a vowel wins tickets to the best hockey game in town. So, how about those Marlies?

5. THE WHITE STUFF?

Watch Ian White do a Red Kelly? And, as two-way forwards go, see if Niklas Hagman really does have more defensive moves than a cocktail waitress at closing time.

6. WHERE'S WILSON?

Play Where's Waldo with coach Ron Wilson's temper. Spotting a throbbing vein in his forehead is worth two points -- like when bad penalties cost the team an exhibition win, he snapped: "It was an exhibition game -- it didn't bother me at all. What bothers me is being asked asinine questions while trying to give young players a chance."

Eye rolling and snippy comebacks are worth a point. Like when asked about Schenn's role in September for about the 10th time in 10 days Wilson got testy.

"I've already answered that question," he puffed, like the great belly of Mount St. Helen's about to explode.

Someone might want to mention to him this is Toronto, where any question worth asking once will be asked at least a dozen times. Every day. But don't forget to duck.

7. FINAL FANTASY

Join a fantasy league. Pick Vesa Toskala. If this team plays defence as well as Wilson does, you might have a sleeper pick.

8. THROW YOUR HANDS UP

Or just pass the hemlock juice. RIP.


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