Worlds await for a few Maple Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

The way Brian Burke sees it, professional hockey players aren't meant to be idle in early April.

So, the Maple Leafs president and general manager is all for as many of the team's players as possible making the trip to Switzerland for the world championship next week.

"We will encourage guys to play if asked," Burke said yesterday. "The season should never end April 12th."

Win or lose in their season finale against the Ottawa Senators tonight at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs will miss the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth consecutive season.

But for some, the work will be just beginning.

The team is instituting a rigorous off-season workout regimen for players with the clear expectation that they will come to training camp in far better shape and fit to compete for their jobs.

Burke, of course, will continue to re-tool the roster, making such off-season plans a moot point for players who don't fit into that blueprint.

But some will get a head start at the worlds under the watchful eye of their bosses. Burke and coach Ron Wilson will be running the U.S. team, one which likely is to include the Leafs' leading scorer, Jason Blake.

Among the other Leafs possibilities are Luke Schenn and Ian White for Canada as well as Mikhail Grabovski for Belarus and Pavel Kubina for the Czech Republic. Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong is believed to be interested in both White and Schenn.

"If I have a shot, it would be an unbelievable opportunity, a nice way to cap off the year," said White, who played defence for Canada at the 2003 world junior in Halifax. "Playing against the best players in the world would be a great opportunity to learn and grow as a player. It definitely would be a big step."

One Leaf who won't be suiting up in Switzerland, however, is Tomas Kaberle. Though he recently returned to the lineup, the veteran defenceman is still recuperating from a hand injury and has decided not to play for the Czech Republic.

"I decided not to go, it's probably the best thing to let the hand heal properly 100%," Kaberle said. "If I have to go through surgery (in the off-season) it wouldn't be nice."

Meanwhile, for those obsessed with the Leafs' draft position, there is something not to play for tonight against the provincial rival Sens: A Toronto loss combined with wins by Phoenix and Los Angeles in their season-ending games would cause Toronto to slip two places in the overall NHL standings.

If that happens, the Leafs, Kings and Coyotes would all be tied with 79 points, but Toronto would claim 26th -- the last position to have a shot at winning the top pick in next Tuesday's draft lottery -- because they would have fewer wins.

The odds of the 26th-placed team coming out of the lottery with No. 1 and a shot at consensus top prospects, John Tavares of the London Knights or Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, are just 8.1%.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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