New year, new hope for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

About the last thing the Maple Leafs need is more practice on the golf course.

Four failed playoff attempts in a row and one year-long lockout surely has them among the lowest handicaps in the NHL.

But with training camp just 48 hours away, players old and new used yesterday's annual charity tournament at Angus Glen to collectively state that early tee times won't remain a team tradition.

"It never leaves a good taste in your mouth one year, let alone four in a row," said Matt Stajan, who has experienced just three playoff games since 2003-04. "This city and (the players) want nothing more than to get this team back where it belongs.

"It's the time of year to go: 'I think we have a strong group' and everyone I've met has the same feelings."

Two years ago with John Ferguson still in charge, the hype was about Vesa Toskala, Jason Blake and Mark Bell. Last September, interim general manager Cliff Fletcher was hyping Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman, Mike Van Ryn, Jeff Finger, Jamal Mayers and Jonas Frogren.

This year, GM Brian Burke has added big names Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin, scrappers Colton Orr and Garnet Exelby and veteran Wayne Primeau.

Sprinkled into this camp are draft picks and college free agents -- Nikolai Kulemin, Luke Schenn, Tyler Bozak and Christian Hanson -- linked to four past GMs, including Pat Quinn. Is it possible this amalgam can achieve eighth place or better in the Eastern Conference as Burke now is insisting?

Komisarek comes from the Montreal Canadiens, where it's sacrilege to think playoffs aren't a right. The defenceman laughed about getting into some banter with a couple of well-oiled Leafs fans after a recent Blue Jays game.

"It's fun to walk around town. Everyone's got the buzz; new team, new attitude, new direction," he said. "Coming in, you get a new sense of belief.

"You want to be a tough team to play against, compete every night, every shift. When I signed here, that's what I was excited about, being a physical player myself. I thought not only can I bring a new, positive attitude and work ethic, but a belief we can make the playoffs."

Stajan certainly has had enough of sitting on his couch every April.

"The worst part is watching the playoffs when you could be there yourself," he said. "You want to use those extra couple of months to get an edge on the guys who are playing. Hopefully, we get off to a great start."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos