Volume 96, Issue 84
Tuesday, March 11, 2003

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New-look Leafs better, but still need to grow-up

My favourite Martin
Dave Martin
Gazette Staff

Although a certain kind of illness has been spreading around Toronto over the last month, it was thought to be nothing more than the regular plague that hits the city this time of year. Maple Leafs fans have become accustomed to getting wrapped up in trade rumours every winter, only to see the deadline come and go with nothing to show for it.

This year is different.

Under the increasing pressure of a perfectly timed slump, Leafs general manager and coach Pat Quinn has finally pulled the trigger on something significant. By doing so, Quinn has spread a fever across Leafs-land that hasn't been felt for a long, long time.

"Owen Nolan mania" has hit Toronto in a major way, spurring non Leafs-lovers to curse even more about how crazy and insane we are. Not many can deny the insanity part – what else can explain having 8,000 people show up to watch Nolan's first practice (close to Buffalo's average attendance per game), or having Nolan shown more than Vancouver's entire team during CBC's telecast Saturday night?

What should have Leafs fans almost as excited as the Nolan deal, is the acquisition of former Carolina Hurricanes' defenceman Glen Wesley, not so much because Wesley is an all-world defenceman, but, more importantly, because we will only have to see two of the terrible threesome of Jyrki Lumme, Aki Berg and Wade Belak.

So, with these recent improvements, can the Leafs and their fans claim to be a serious contender to sip from Lord Stanley's shining cup come June? The answer is no. But it's not because they don't have the right tools.

It's time for the Leafs to growup and that needs to start at the top with Quinn. It seems ridiculous that one of the oldest teams in the NHL is among the most immature both on-and-off the ice. Too often this season, Toronto has been penalized far more than their opponents, especially of late. However, very rarely does Quinn or anyone else condemn the team for their foolish play.

Instead, Quinn and his troops constantly blame the officiating, something that only gathers an increasing distaste for the Leafs around the league. Why can't Quinn realize that even if there is a bias against his squad (likely caused by their own behaviour), it's the Leafs themselves that have to change – the system is not going to adapt for them. This doesn't mean completely eliminating their bang-and-crash style, but there has to be a consequence for actions such as Darcy Tucker's constant Theo Fleury impersonations.

Quinn has always had an aggressive style of coaching and has brought in several players who need to play with fire to be effective – but fire can be risky, and right now the flames seem to be out of control. Quinn is the only one with the fire extinguisher and it's definitely time he pulled the trigger directed at his own team, rather than firing shots at everyone else.

The recent acquisitions have created a deafening optimistic buzz in Leafs-land. However, without an effort to mature from both Quinn and his players, this version of the Bud's, unfortunately, isn't going to be able to end Toronto's 36-year Cup drought.

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