Leafs still laughable lot

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been called a lot of things over the years, but Comeback Kids is a new one.

While Toronto's media has been busy chasing -- or making up -- the latest Mats Sundin rumour, the Buds have quietly pieced together, well, another terrible team.

However, what has many talking early in the season is they're not as bad as the hockey world expected.

Instead of talking about how well positioned the young squad is to draft Toronto-area saviour John Tavares first overall next summer, the talk revolves around a work ethic that has seen the squad stage some of the most impressive comebacks the league has seen this season.

Starting opening night when they shocked the defending Stanley Cup champions in Detroit, they've out-worked and outshot a shocking number of teams to post a .500 record few saw coming.

Returning to the Saddledome for the first time in almost three years last night, the Leafs demonstrated why they'll most likely still put up a good fight for last place in the NHL by the time April rolls around.

The only reason they might not achieve the last-place goal that ownership is hoping for as the team finally starts to reload without Sundin is the fact they play in the country club conference.

On a team of no-names, this year's collection of Maple Leafs is so obscure it's being led by a German-born Belarussian named Mikhail Grabovski, who tops all Toronto goal scorers.

To the casual fan, perhaps the Leafs' most famous skater is Jiri Tlusty, a man so sharp he made front-page news last year for posting naked photos of himself on his Facebook page.

One of the remnants from the John Ferguson era of errors, Jason Blake, was a healthy scratch last night for the second time this season, prompting a minor hissy-fit as he undressed following yesterday's morning skate.

Yes, it's the dawn of a new age for Leafs fans, who made their painful existence known more than a hour before puck drop by echoing "Go Leafs Go" chants through the concourse.

Excited to see the 1967 champs for the first time here in almost three years, a vociferous group of four or five thousand wearing white and blue saw first hand why Leafs head coach Ron Wilson has the best job in hockey.

With absolutely no expectations on him for at least the first year or two of his four-year deal, he's actually drawing praise from Leaf faithful, who think a .500 start is pretty darn good. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Keep in mind, while the franchise has been mocked for years, it has actually posted winning records for a decade, including 40-win seasons in seven of its last nine campaigns. Even last year, they won more than they lost.

Still, it was time to re-tool -- something ownership was apparently the last to realize.

All that said, as the Flames entered the third period last night with a well-earned 3-1 lead, there were legions of fans who still believed the "new" Leafs had it in them to claw back. After all, this is a team that scored five straight goals in the third period against the Rangers just a few weeks back.

However, while outshooting the Flames in the third and scoring twice the beloved visitors fell short, losing 4-3.

What do you expect from a team whose top two lines consist of Matt Stajan/Alexei Ponikarovsky/Nik Antropov and Grabovski/Niklas Hagman/Nikolai Kulemin?

Make no mistake, things will get better in Toronto.

Especially when they get Sundin back next week.

Okay, just joking -- it wouldn't be a proper Leafs story without at least one silly rumour in there.


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