Never mind the weatherman and Thursday’s snow squalls. Forget about Ol’ Man Winter blowing down Bay St.
Spring is in the air.
All the signs are there, if you just know how to read them.
The Maple Leafs are out of a playoff spot — a truer harbinger of spring cannot be found anywhere from a Pennsylvania groundhog hole to Wiarton Willie. And, players, media and coaches once again are singing from that familiar song of wheelings, dealings, no-trade clauses and lost dreams. And, oh yeah, it’s probably the media’s fault.
As the world around them once again collapses, the Leafs are trying to find their personal solutions to deal with the situation.
There is Garnet Exelby singing Play Me, Or Trade Me, and Jamal Mayers asking the Leafs to Love Me Or Leave Me.
Coach Ron Wilson put on his best “What, me worry?” expression at the open dissension.
“This happens all the time. It doesn’t bother me. Just play better,” he said.
Meantime, Wilson also found an old rack on which to hang the team’s woes. The media. Evidently, we’re big meanies. He chastised a media scrum after practice Thursday, noting he never sees reporters talk to anyone about something positive.
“You’re like sharks,” he said. “I see it every day. You always go for the negative ... when somebody gets nicked a bit, you’re there.”
Now, there is some truth in this: The “If it bleeds, it leads” theory is alive and well in newsrooms. But it is even truer that the Leafs haven’t given the media many “positive” things to write about. Crap is crap. Even Wilson can see that.
Teams don’t win Stanley Cups because the media writes positive things about them. And, they don’t threaten to set franchise records for ineptitude because sports writers have run out of polite ways to say they stink. Contrary to what Wilson may believe, most sports writers don’t enjoy asking guys, night, after night, after night how they screwed up.
Anyways, with 28 games remaining and no ladder long enough to get into the playoffs, it is one solution Toronto’s lovable rapscallions are trying to use to survive an inevitably sinking ship again.
Mayer simply told the team he wants out.
Thursday, Exelby, who has spent almost as much time in the press box as some of the sharks, said: “I’m trying to be a good teammate, but at some point I need to get into the lineup.”
And, having his agent get his GPS out and find him a way out of town, it’s obvious he doesn’t much care if that lineup wears a Maple Leaf or not.
Luke Schenn shrugs. “Nobody is happy with the way things have gone. Nobody here could’ve pictured this at the beginning of the season,” he said. “But there’s always something to play for. You’ve dreamed to get to this level. There’s thousands of guys fighting to take your spot and there’s guys here playing for contracts. You have kids looking up to you. Then there’s self pride. I’d hope nobody feels like shutting it down or packing it in. That’s the last thing on my mind.”
So he rattles Colton Orr so hard into the boards it almost turns into a civil war. Ah, the exuberance of youth!
Then there is Alex Ponikarovsky grinning and rolling his eyes as the third wave of cameras descended on his locker: “You want to talk about a trade, right?”
He’s been down this street more often than a two-bit hooker. He watched Mats Sundin do the “read my lips! I don’t want to be traded!” routine. He saw his pal, Nik Antropov, dealt. This year, he’s on the list of Goodbye Boys.
“Everybody is asking me,” he said. “But it’s not something you have to think about every day.”
Actually, this time of year in Toronto, it is. Some things never (sob!) change.