Who cares, really?

STEVE SIMMONS,SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

The real hockey season begins tomorrow night, just not in the supposed centre of the hockey universe.

Here, we do things differently. This is yet another dark spring. There will be no Stanley Cup playoffs and for those scoring at home, that takes the streak without games of meaning to 1,565 days and counting.

It has been that long, that terrible. When it was one year out of playoffs, there was frustration. When it became two, there was anger. Now that's it's a full five years -- four seasons and one lockout -- without a hockey game that truly inspires, and the frustration, disappointment, and anger have been replaced by a numbing indifference.

We now expect to look elsewhere in April. And if Brian Burke feels like he has been punched in the gut for missing out on the playoffs, it's nothing when compared with what most Leafs fans have endured.

Toronto now leads all of hockey in post-mortems. We can clean out our lockers better than anyone. We do the day-after-season thing without need of rehearsal. The players change, the answers don't. Great guys, who are great in the room, had great years. The problem, unfortunately, begins when these great guys leave the room they are so great in.

"I'm banking on being in the playoffs for the rest of my career," said Ian White, just about the only Leaf who has nothing to apologize for. But it was that kind of banking bravado, without logic, that has put our economy in peril.

If he wants to bank on being in the playoffs for the rest of his career, my advice would be for him to call his agent and demand a trade. Then he'd have a shot. Otherwise, we don't know.

Luke Schenn said he remembered watching the Leafs in the playoffs but what he didn't say was that he was probably playing bantam hockey at the time. Officially, Schenn was 14 years old when Jeremy Roenick scored an overtime goal on May 4, 2004, to eliminate the Leafs in, if you can believe it, the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That was the team John Ferguson inherited and destroyed. But we have been over that ground too many times. This is a new Leafs era, only yesterday, around the Air Canada Centre, it looked and it sounded like an old Leafs era.

CEO Richard Peddie's won-lost record as a sporting executive borders on the maddening. He is an equal opportunity loser, capable of losing with bumbling executives -- his hires -- and those considered on the cutting edge -- those he was forced to hire. Over the past six sporting years, the Leafs have made the playoffs once, missed four times, didn't play a season once.

Over the past six seasons, the Raptors have missed the playoffs four times and been eliminated twice in first round.

And ask yourself this: If it's Peddie's job to make money for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., how much money did it cost the company for Peddie's low-end hires of Ferguson and Rob Babcock, followed by the very expensive hires of Burke and Bryan Colangelo?

When you get to about $50 million, you can stop counting.

Only three current Leafs not named Curtis Joseph -- Tomas Kaberle, Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky -- actually have played a playoff game for Toronto. Stajan, for the record played in all of three, without scoring a point. Ponikarovsky scored one goal as a part-time player in 23 post-season appearances. Kaberle, who seems to accept losing far too easily, leads the group with 77 playoff games with the Leafs.

"I try and tell the guys what it's like," Stajan said. "Nothing better than being in the playoffs in this city."

Just difficult to remember.

Every team in the Eastern Conference, except for Florida, has been to the post- season since that Roenick overtime goal was scored. Imagine that. The real hockey season starts tomorrow. The Leafs answered their questions yesterday.


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