Leafs aware of GM's axe

Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn will not be benched for tonight's game against the Hurricanes. (Sun...

Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn will not be benched for tonight's game against the Hurricanes. (Sun Media/Errol McGihon)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:59 PM ET

RALEIGH N.C. -- The Maple Leafs now know general manager Brian Burke’s axe is poised over their heads.

How they respond to the threat of a demotion will be come clear the next 72 hours when they take on the worst and first of the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, then Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

Burke told Sun Media on Wednesday that his patience with elements of this 3-11-5 team has just about snapped, particularly with non-producing scorers on one-way contracts. He said if the drought continues, he will very quickly move to put one or more on waivers with the purpose of sending them to the Marlies and if they’re claimed, that’s life.

Jason Blake, with two goals and 10 assists in 19 games, said he couldn’t blame Burke for being upset.

“Players have to be accountable and GMs and coaches must do their jobs,” said Blake, who makes $4.5 million US a year. “But I think we’re starting to do little things (right). It’s a long year. But we’re not the Detroit Red Wings, we’re not going to skate around everyone. We have to pay attention to detail.”

Centre John Mitchell thought Burke’s comments should be a wake-up call.

“Hopefully everyone realizes, ‘hey, I want to be here’,” Mitchell said. “As long as in a game we take that extra inch, that extra step, that extra mile, we’ll be okay.”

Coach Ron Wilson seemed fine with his boss’s statement, though it didn’t prompt him to make any radical changes for tonight. Despite sitting Luke Schenn much of the third period in Tuesday’s loss to Ottawa, the 20-year-old defenceman will not be benched and Wilson once and for all dashed the idea of offensive minded blueliner Ian White playing right wing.

“(Schenn) had had the up and down inconsistencies of a second-year player,” Wilson said. “We’re willing to live with that.

“Ian has the most even-strength points on our defence and been our best plus/minus player. Why would I move him up?”

Jonas Gustavsson will get the start in goal and it seems Garnet Exelby and Wayne Primeau will be the scratches on defence and forward, respectively.

The Hurricanes are doing just as poorly as the Leafs, but have been decimated by injuries, including goalie Cam Ward and centre Eric Staal.

Coach Paul Maurice, who always found some humour to get himself through two long non-playoff seasons with the Leafs, deadpanned “I’m not as funny as I used to be...just ask our (reporters)”, but said he’s not worried about losing the team.

“I’ve liked our process,” he said. “The battle has been there (as a team). Small group meetings on the ice would not a good sign.”

A few days ago, general manager Jim Rutherford gave a personal apology to Hurricane fans for this year’s showing.

“I didn’t necessarily agree with Jim taking the heat,” Maurice said. “It’s all on us.”

Tonight's lineup:

Toronto

Alexei Ponikarovsky Matt Stajan Phil Kessel

Lee Stempniak John Mitchell Nikoplai Kulemin

Jason Blake Mikhail Grabovski Niklas Hagman

Jamal Mayers Rickard Wallin Colton Orr

Defence

Tomas Kaberle Francois Beauchemin

Jeff Finger Ian White

Luke Schenn Carl Gunnarsson

Goal

Jonas Gustavsson Vesa Toskala

Hurricanes

Ray Whitney Brandon Sutter Erik Cole

Jussi Jokinen Matt Cullen Tuomo Ruutu

Sergei Samsonov Rod Brind’Amour Chad LaRose

Tom Kostopoulos Stephane Yelle Patrick Dwyer

Defence

Aaron Ward Tim Gleason

Niclas Wallin Andrew Alberts

Joe Corvo Bryan Rodney

Goal

Manny Legace Justin Peters.


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