For those lucky Torontonians with digital cable, there's now
must-see Leafs TV, a channel devoted to the fortunes and history
of a franchise that has crossed the line between civic passion
and obsession. All Maple Leafs all the time--it's as if the
station were airing music videos or cooking shows. You'd think
there would be a finite number of times you'd want to watch fans
tossing bouquets at standout goalie Curtis Joseph or listening
to the story of Bobby Baun's fractured ankle during the
triumphant 1964 Stanley Cup finals, but then you don't live in
the 416 area code. Of course, if Toronto had actually won the
Cup since '67 or even reached the finals in the postexpansion
era, this wall-to-wall coverage might make some sense.
There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of next years for the
Leafs, who at least are inching toward contention. After letting
New Jersey escape in their seven-game, second-round playoff
series last spring, Toronto tweaked its attack by assembling the
deepest group of forwards in the East. The Leafs signed free
agent Alexander Mogilny, who scored 43 goals for the Devils in
2000-01, and repatriated two players from Europe, Mikael Renberg,
onetime Swedish team linemate of Leafs captain Mats Sundin, and
Robert Reichel, a Czech who is back for his third NHL tour.
Reichel, 30, gives Toronto a second-line center capable of easing
the offensive burden on Sundin. The Leafs also have a creditable
third line centered by newcomer Travis Green, as well as the
league's most robust fourth line, which includes brothers-in-law
Darcy Tucker and Shayne Corson.
Alas for Toronto, its defense is not as strong as its offense.
The Maple Leafs' best puck mover, Tomas Kaberle, was embroiled in
a contract dispute as SI went to press, and coach and G.M. Pat
Quinn dealt feisty Danny Markov to Phoenix to acquire Reichel and
Green. There also is no power-play quarterback, a job too
demanding for a high risk-high reward blueliner like Bryan
McCabe. Toronto is gambling that Aki Berg, the third player
drafted in 1995, will finally emerge. If not, the burden of
stopping opponents again will be on Joseph, who, despite
consistently strong work, has carried a team to a conference
final only once.
Last year Mats Sundin led the Maple Leafs in scoring for the
seventh straight season, a streak that is second in franchise
history to Darryl Sittler's eight consecutive years (1972-73
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 6 Look for run-and-gun offense led by Sundin,
DEFENSE 8 Yushkevich, McCabe gritty; will Berg emerge?
GOALTENDING 4 Joseph, team's best player, allows Leafs to
SPECIAL TEAMS 10 Penalty killing is aggressive with many
MANAGEMENT 8 Spent lots of money this summer upgrading