Volume 90, Issue 75

Thursday, February 06, 1997



Losing Leafs bank on calm Watters

By Michael Jacobs
Gazette Staff

The Toronto Maple Leafs franchise simmers on the hotbed of hockey's ultimate disgrace. Strewn from its prolonged exorcizing of a tyrannical leader's demons and severely scathed from shadow boxing the shockwaves of inept management, skates a beleaguered team in the shadow of the National Hockey League's basement.

Assistant general manager Bill Watters remains resilient on management's promise to deliver a playoff team this spring.

"We're reloading for the playoffs, we want to make the playoffs this year," he said. "We're competitive and will continue to be competitive."

Attempting to deflect public scrutiny from his wilting team, Watters denied comment on controversial issues. In response to questions concerning the role and performance of head coach Mike Murphy, Watters repeatedly answered, "He's worked very hard."

Watters declined to list the melancholy veteran Leafs most disgruntled with the team's fortunes.

"I can't answer that question," he said.

Pride in the blue and white jersey and a sustained work ethic have faded since Pat Burns guided the Leafs in the early '90s. Watters addressed the Burns situation and quelled any rumours of Burns' apparent return to Toronto.

"Pat's time had come and he wanted to leave. It's ludicrous to think that Pat Burns would return to the Maple Leaf organization. Pat's record speaks for itself. He's a great coach and performed well when he was in Toronto."

Waters feels a resurrection of the glory years of Leaf hockey is not far off but his tone and dire sense of urgency resonated extreme uncertainty.

"There's something missing from our team right now," he said. "We don't know what it is but we'll keep on working hard."

Slide the register open and read the bottom line. There is no confidence left in the till – just a couple of old $2 bills and an I.O.U. to Maple Leaf fans.

"The whole team's confidence is down," Watters admitted.

Watters and general manager Cliff Fletcher have continually chiseled the Leafs' identity through transactions. Since reaching the conference semi-finals in 1992 and 1993, Fletcher and Watters have relied on veterans in the twilight of their careers.

The stagnant Leafs are transfixed in a perilous predicament – engage in a frantic rush to sneak into this year's playoffs by acquiring proven veterans or commit to a youth movement by extraditing veterans to contenders.

Watters believes that neither avenue is necessary to achieve success. He also denies league interest in team captain Doug Gilmour.

"Nobody has approached us regarding a trade for Doug. In exchange for Doug, we would want a player that can step in and contribute immediately but you can't replace a Gilmour, he's the heart and soul of our team," Watters explained.

Watters' daunting playoff prophecy reflects the phantom stability projected by Leaf management, one that has legitimized the releasing of productive role players and squandered draft picks on fruitless veterans.

A shadow boxer spars in the shadows of personal fists. The Leafs lay unconscious on the bottom of the canvas – a knockout delivered by the ineptness of their management.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazsport@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997