|Ron Wilson directs traffic during Leaf practice at the Air Canada Centre on Feb. 2. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/SUN MEDIA)
OTTAWA -- The Maple Leafs may be mathematically in the playoff hunt, but as far as head coach Ron Wilson is concerned, arithmetic is for, well, guys with calculators and protractors (if anybody uses the latter anymore).
Despite the Leafs' recent three-game winning streak, Wilson reaffirmed yesterday that general manager Brian Burke and the rest of the organization would be "stupid" to reverse its direction and, with an eye to the March 4 trade deadline, try to shore up the lineup.
"Brian is not going to forsake the future here for a hopeful spurt," Wilson said following the team's practice yesterday at Scotiabank Place in advance of tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators. "We're not in very good position right now and to say that we are, to give false hope, would be ridiculous.
"If we are, after (tonight), still nine points back (of a playoff spot), and Brian was to not follow through with our (long-term rebuilding) plan, how stupid could we be?"
The Leafs are 5-2-3 in their past 10 games. They have 60 points in 62 games and, prior to last night's games, were nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but with three teams between themselves and the post-season.
And while diehard Leafs fans may still believe, Wilson said it's time to take off the rose coloured glass and face reality. And the reality is, the playoffs are probably not going to happen -- not that he doesn't expect his team to play hard every night.
"Whatever happens, happens. We'll try to win every game that we play in," Wilson said. "But we're not going to make a patchup, band-aid move to force the issue. If we make it with what we have, fine. If we don't ... Brian's got to think of the future of the team, not the next two weeks."
As far the club's points streak of late (they have gone to overtime in five consecutive games, tying a franchise record), Wilson puts most of the credit on goaltender Vesa Toskala, who faced 44 shots in a 5-4 shootout win in New York over the Islanders on Thursday night.
"We're not good enough to win every night, (but) we're having a little hot spell because our goalie has played unbelievable," Wilson said. "We just played the last-place team in the league and gave up 44 shots. And you guys (the media) would be sitting there and saying: 'Oh, what an effort.' We weren't very good defensively. Fortunately, Vesa was."
In years past, Leafs-Senators tilts, the much-heralded Battle of Ontario, have been heated contests, usually staged between two clubs gearing up for the playoffs. This season, the rivalry is shaping up to be more of a Battle of Onterrible. Both teams are realistically out of the playoff picture, with the shockingly underperforming Senators five points behind Toronto.
The Leafs will have veteran defencemen Mike Van Ryn (knee) and Tomas Kaberle (broken hand) back in the lineup tonight after extended periods of convalescence. However, forward Niklas Hagman has been sent back to Toronto for tests as a result of being elbowed in the head by the Islanders' defenceman Brendan Witt in Thursday's game. Hagman already had suffered on concussion this season.