Maple Leafs part ways

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

One by one, Maple Leafs players paraded into coach Ron Wilson's office yesterday for what were officially termed "exit" interviews.

Just how literally they may have to take the term will begin to unfold over the coming months.

With a fourth consecutive season out of the playoffs and the strong possibility that many won't be back, the season-ending goodbyes yesterday at the Air Canada Centre may have had a tone of permanence.

NO JOB SECURITY

"You are never secure, nobody's secure," defenceman Pavel Kubina said after his meeting with Wilson and his staff. "On the other hand, I will just try to do my best over the summer and get ready for next season, whether it's going to be here or somewhere else.

"If the team wants to move you, they will move you. You've got to be used to that pressure."

As they were around the March trade deadline, Kubina and fellow defenceman Tomas Kaberle are two of the more talked about Leafs in terms of their possibility of being shipped out.

While there is no guarantee that will happen, the Czech pair certainly is among the most valuable items of currency Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke has heading into the off-season and both will lose the no-trade clauses in their contracts for a seven-week window, beginning June 26.

But as Burke has emphatically said, he'll move players, contracts and whatever else it might take to be competitive next season.

"(Trade rumours) are part of the game, especially being here in Toronto," Kaberle said. "If you don't play well, you hear it and that's a good thing too. It gets you motivated every day.

"It's not like it's not going to go away next year. Whatever happens, happens and I have to deal with it."

One point of emphasis Wilson has made clear is that players will be expected to focus on conditioning and come to camp ready to compete for their jobs and a strong start to the season.

"As players, we have to play every game like the playoffs are on the line," centre Matt Stajan said. "I think everybody knew there would be lots of changes and the team's moving in a positive direction.

"It's now up to us to make sure we are playing like we can every night and not taking games off."

Stajan could be one of Burke's more interesting off-season decisions. Thanks to a strong start, the Mississauga native had a career-high 55 points. On the downside, he had just one goal in his final 23 games, more than a quarter of the season.

The other glaring need for improvement is defensively after the team gave up a league-high 293 goals

The coaches have stressed defensive responsibility all season but those lessons have yet to be fully grasped. Only two players who dressed for 27 games or more finished on the right side of plus-minus stats -- Stajan and Ian White at plus-6.

In any event, Burke has made it clear the team wants to get back to the playoffs immediately.

"I guarantee you that is the plan here," said forward Brad May, another free agent whose future is up in the air. "Legitimately, teams can make that turnaround awfully quick now. I've played for (Burke) in the past. The group here wants to do it quickly but (also) being responsible about not getting rid of younger players."


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