North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Nevermind the playoff tickets: This season is done

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Well, folks, it finally happened: the Maple Leafs of Toronto have not made the playoffs. Yes, there’s still seven-odd games left to play and yes, it’s still mathematically possible for the Leafs to sneak into the #8 spot – but that would require two teams (The Atlanta Thrashers, who remain ahead of the Leafs in the #9 spot and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are the #8 seed) to have massive collapses, something close to the Blue Jays in 1989 (who lost something like 15 of their last 15 games) or like the Winnipeg Jets in the 1990 playoffs (who blew a 3-1 series lead to the eventual cup-winning Edmonton Oilers) but today, despite another win (the Leafs have got at least a point in something like seven games in a row), even the most optimistic Leafs fan has to admit something to themselves: The Leafs have about the same chance of making the playoffs – let alone winning the Stanley Cup – as the Columbus Blue Jackets do (Who were officially eliminated yesterday from playoff contention).

But this is for the best, isn’t it? The Leafs need to rebuild their entire team and with some luck this season – one that even casual fans will be glad to put behind them – will finally be the wakeup call that Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) so needed. Even the bright spots this year – Jean-Sebastian Aubin going four for five (his only loss coming against the Bruins on Thursday night) or Alexander Steen having a great rookie season (indeed, one of the best since 1996/97, when Sergei Berezin had 41 points) – has been overtaken by the many dark spots of the year: Ed Belfour losing five straight games in pursuit of his 448th win (so he could pass Terry Sawchuk on the career wins list), Eric Lindros having another injury-plagued season, the Leafs losing every match to their rival Ottawa Senators or Mats Sundin taking a puck in the eye in the first game of the season, for example.

The failures this season weren’t just limited to small events, either: key forwards such as Jeff O’Neill or Matt Stajan underachieved all year as the Leafs went for something like 7 games without an even-strength goal. The entire defence came to rest almost entirely upon Brian McCabe – who, predictably, wasn’t able to keep it together for the entire season. Even the goaltenders were inconsistent: while Ed Belfour had his worst season ever, Mikael Tellqvist was sparingly used until the tail end of the season, where he still managed to prove himself to be Ed Junior – bright at times, but then likely to drop a few games when they’re needed most (like against Montreal, for example). Even the management failed to produce: the Leafs failed to trade off McCabe – who will likely sign elsewhere as a free agent this summer – and were barely able to add any depth where it was needed most – the blue line (Luke Richardson – their only major acquisition – is a stopgap solution at most).

But whatever – this season’s outcome is better for the general psyche of the Leafs fan then any realistic postseason outcome would have been: it would be a nightmare for the Leafs fan to see his – or her – team fall apart while playing the Ottawa Senators or the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. And now the Leafs will have a better draft pick, to boot. So relax: The Blue Jays have improved their team and we can all sit back and wait for the inevitable collapse of the Senators.

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Written by M.

April 9, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Hockey, nhl

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