Leaf players at peace

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

If Maple Leafs players are nervous about being shipped out of town prior to tomorrow's NHL trade deadline, they certainly aren't showing it.

Just prior to the end of yesterday's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena, Jason Blake, the club's leading scorer, skated over to coach Ron Wilson, conversed for a minute or two, shook Wilson's hand, and then left the ice before any of his teammates -- which is odd in itself.

But when the media entered the dressing room later on, Blake's stall was devoid of equipment and his name tag was removed -- prompting at least a few of the less cerebral members of the Fifth Estate to jump to conclude that he had just been traded.

Turns out, it was a gag, with the media the target.

However, while the Leafs players may not be obsessed about the approaching deadline, there is no doubt that there is concern -- given the fact that general manager Brian Burke has said that anyone is dealable if he gets enough back.

"Anybody that says they're not worried about it, well, I don't know," NHL veteran Mike Van Ryn said. "It's a pretty hard thing not to worry about it, unless you want to be moved. Even more for guys who have family and kids. It's hard to relocate."

Van Ryn, who played four seasons in south Florida before being traded to the Leafs prior to this season, said that the media attention makes it worse in Toronto.

"It's lot different here than in Florida, that's for sure," Van Ryn said.

"But you try to block it out and do what you can.

"It's hard not to get caught up in it, especially around here with all the media pressure and stuff. You just try to worry about your game."

Some of the players have accepted the fact that they may be moved.

"In my opinion, it's just another day. It's part of the business, if something happens, it happens," said winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has been mentioned in trade rumours this season. "I've got a lot memories in Toronto. My three kids were born here, I got married here and I met my wife here.

NO CONTROL

"But you can't control it if management decides you have to go."

Somewhat lost in the all the trade speculation is the fact that the Leafs have won four in a row and are only eight points out of a playoff spot with 19 games to go, albeit with three teams to overtake.

Wilson, however, is not about to whip his team into a playoff frenzy.

The coach said he expects his team to play hard every night, while adding that a playoff spot is not overly realistic at his point.

Nor does he expect Burke to trade for someone to help the team in the short-term.

"Brian has a lot of work to do in the next couple of days and then we'll assess our (playoff) chances after the deadline," Wilson said. "(But) he's sticking to his long-term plan for sure. We're not going to vary from the plan for a short-term little bump here that would sacrifice where we're going to be in two or three years."

The coach added there is little trade deadline anxiety in the dressing room.

"For the last three weeks I haven't sensed that at all," he said. "We've tried to maintain a fun working environment -- work hard in practice and do our best in games. I think since Brian laid all the cards on the table about a month ago, I don't think there has been anything hanging over our players' heads. And I think everybody's made peace with what they have to make peace with."


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