Be careful what you wish for, Leafs fans

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:48 PM ET

TORONTO - Toronto hockey fans openly cheering for an NHL return to Winnipeg should do so at their own peril.

Should the Atlanta Thrashers be sold to Winnipeg interests and moved to Canada, another move would have to follow ó a team from the Western Conference eventually moving to the Eastern Conference.

It may not happen right away. But if it does, the likely candidates to land in the East are the Detroit Red Wings, which is terrific news if you like rivalries, not so great if youíre hoping to see the Leafs return to the Stanley Cup playoffs some day.

The Red Wings, under Ken Holland, are an annual playoff team. That means one more team the Leafs would have to beat out in order to make the Top 8 they keep talking about.

The realignment may not occur next season ó and Columbus is fighting with Detroit to move from the West to the East ó but right now, for the Leafs to qualify for the playoffs next season theyíd have to beat out Boston and Tampa, the conference finalists, along with contenders such as Washington, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Philadelphia. Then you add in Buffalo under new ownership, the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist, and playoff also rans, Carolina and New Jersey, and you see what the Leafs are up against.

Add Detroit to the mix one year later and only gets that much more complicated for the Leafs.

This and that

Two amazing things about the redoubtable Antti Niemi. 1) Heís played in six Stanley Cup playoff series and won all six; 2) His quest to win back to back Stanley Cups with two different teams remains alive ... Ken Hitchcock wants another NHL head coaching gig but coming off a world championship where Team Canada didnít get a medal wonít help his cause ... Strange, there are five coaching openings, in Dallas, Florida, Minnesota, New Jersey and Ottawa, and not one hiring to date. Whatís everybody waiting for? And still donít understand why Colorado didnít fire Joe Sacco? There should be six coaching vacancies ... Funny, that the usually accessible front office people in Atlanta, general manager, Rick Dudley, and former GM, Don Waddell, are not saying much of anything about the future of the Thrashers in the South. Their silence in this case is quite telling ... Two words for the Philadelphia captain, Mike Richards: Grow up ... For the record, that crazy, improbable goal scored by Mikael Granlund at the world championship, was scored by the ninth player picked in last Juneís draft, who is hardly a sniper. The kid scored just eight goals in the Finnish League as a 19-year-old but that one will be remembered forever ... The three best goals in recent times: 1. Bobby Ryanís stickhandling special vs. Nashville; 2. Granlundís scoop and throw goal; 3. Ryan Keslerís split the defenceman, Messier-like rush against the Predators.

Here and there

The last time the Vancouver Canucks made it to the conference final, the coaching matchup was classic: Pat Quinn, Canucks, vs. Pat Burns, Leafs. Even if the series was not ... Department of boy was I wrong: When the Tampa Bay Lightning entered the playoffs, I told anyone who listened: This is one of those just happy to be there teams. They wonít last long ... For all its buildup, the Miami Heat-Boston Celtics didnít have half the drama of the San Jose-Detroit classic ... The more Iím on Twitter, the more hooked I get, the more frustrated and disappointed it makes me, and yet I still keep going back. Like an addiction of sorts ... Personally, your thoughts or my thoughts on same sex marriage are your own or my business, but they do matter if youíre a player agent and youíre representing clients who donít agree with the beliefs you happen to be advertising in public ... Justin Verlander went 50 batters, the 28 batters he faced in the Blue Jays no hitter, and another 22 in his following start. That is about as close as anybody will ever get to Johnny Vander Meer ... For those keeping score, Team Canada didnít get a medal at the worlds even though James Reimer didnít lose a game.

Scene and heard

The NFL must end its lockout now, if not for football fans, then for the good of society. Since the players were locked out, four members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been locked up ... Nice tweet from Shawn Green on the passing of former Jaysí coach and manager for a minute, Mel Queen. First Green called him the ďwisest man I met in 16 years in baseball. Then he wrote: ďJust ask (Carlos) Delgado, (Chris) Carpenter, (Roy) Halladay, (Jeff) Kent, Shannon Stewart, Woody Williams etc. what Mel meant to their careersĒ ... I only met the late Derek Boogaard once. My memories are two-fold: 1) He was like many of the NHLís toughest players, nothing like his on-ice image; 2) He had the second hardest handshake Iíve ever felt (Sidney Greenberg of Astral wins that category hands down) ... What a way for Phil Jacksonís coaching career to supposedly come to an end, with idiots like Andrew Bynum throwing elbows around like he trying out for a career in UFC ... Best reason to cheer against San Jose in the playoffs: We canít have Kyle Wellwood with a Stanley Cup ring, can we? ... The most appropriate nickname in baseball: Alfredo Aceves of the Red Sox is known to his teammates as sweaty. And boy is he ever ... This must worry Sidney Crosby: In Justin Morneauís last 116 at bats before his concussion last season, he batted .300 with seven home runs. In his first 116 at bats this season, heís hitting .216 with one home run.

And another thing

From the department of nothing ever goes right for the Raptors, we give you Zach Randolph, the reason the Memphis Grizzlies are playing Game 7 on Sunday against Oklahoma City. Randolph happened to be the 19th selection in the 2001 NBA Draft. The Raptors picking 17th chose Michael Bradley, who averaged 2.8 points per game in parts of five NBA seasons ... For those counting, thatís the first Game 7 of the NBA playoffs. They trail the NHL 5-1 in Game 7s in this post-season ... Tuesday is an enormous day for the Raptors, who have no coach or general manager signed up for next season. Getting first pick in the draft would be a huge win at this time for the franchise. But if you go with their history, donít expect the win here ... The best point of dissent Iíve heard on the banning of body checking at the house league and select level came from a hockey dad: If the OHF was going to make that decision, they should have done so before Rep tryouts. That would given any player who wanted to play contact hockey the opportunity to do so .... Almost got to the bottom without a word, good, bad, or indifferent about the Sedin brothers. Stay tuned ... Happy birthday to three of my all time favourite baseball players, Justin Morneau (30), George Brett (59) and Omar Vizquel (44) and also to Michael Bishop (35), Ryan Leaf (35) and Emmitt Smith (42) ... And hey, whatever became of Johan Garpenlov?

Sharks have more bite this year

These are not Ron Wilsonís San Jose Sharks, this close to the Stanley Cup. Not anymore. Wilson didnít have Dan Boyle or Logan Couture or a grown up Devin Setoguchi in his lineup. He had Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek and Craig Rivet and he had Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski, but before they matured into players who would become difference makers. In Wilsonís last San Jose season, he had three 20-goal scorers and no 30-goal scorers. This yearís Sharks team had two 30-goal scorers - should have had three had Dany Heatley not mailed in his season - and three 20-goal scorers. Wilson did have Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau in his time in San Jose but nowhere near the depth and strength of this yearís team. This is a team deep enough to win the Cup. Looking back, Wilsonís teams were not.

One-man show

Right before our eyes, Jose Bautista gets better, every week, every month, every game. On a Blue Jays team where so much has gone wrong, so much has fallen apart, every Bautista at bat is something to follow, a discovery of sorts waiting to happen. He was a good player at the end of the 2009 season, a great player in 2010 and now, he is taking his game to an entirely new level. It is both fascinating, remarkable and inspiring to watch. He has become what few Blue Jays before him have become: The reason to go to the ballpark. Typically, the fair weather fans of Toronto have not completely caught on to Bautista and all that is happening with him. Attendance continues to be soft. But if anyone deserves more people in the park, itís Bautista: He is starring daily in his own one-man show.

T.O.ís love for Leo in a league of its own

It wasnít until I wrote about Leo Cahill and his health issues earlier this week and began reading all the responses that came in, that I came to truly understand how significant a figure he was on the Toronto sports scene. There have been other people: Punch lmlach, Pinball Clemons, Cito Gaston, who have changed the way we look at sporting teams and sporting times. But itís different with Cahill. It is, for many of us, generational, a childhood memory we want to hold on to forever. A time we cannot duplicate. Cahill wasnít just a coach, but a walking headline, someone we adored and loathed, often at the same time. There wonít or canít ever be another like him because times and circumstances can never be the same. Just be thankful heís still around and appreciate the time for what it was.


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