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Original Issue

15 Toronto Maple Leafs A frustrating summer in the free-agent market doesn't bode well for the season

Leafs TV, the 24-hour network devoted to the team, could have
aired a miniseries last summer called The Bridesmaids. Toronto
waded into the free-agent pool with a nose clip and water wings,
making honest but ultimately futile attempts at signing top
players such as forwards Bill Guerin and Bobby Holik and
defenseman Darius Kasparaitis. The most telling runner-up finish
was for their goalie, Curtis Joseph, who signed for less with
Detroit ($24 million for three years) than the Leafs offered him
(about $9 million per) to stay.

"He felt he had a better opportunity [to win the Stanley Cup],"
says captain Mats Sundin. The implications of Joseph's defection
were stunning: Toronto, the only franchise in the Eastern
Conference to win at least one playoff round in each of the past
four seasons, has the financial means to win the Cup but not the
talent, a pity given that the footage of the Leafs' last Cup
parade (1967) is in black-and-white.

They did sign 37-year-old free agent Ed Belfour to replace
Joseph, a reasonable Plan B. Belfour won the 1999 Cup with
Dallas, an accomplishment that drew more attention in Toronto
than his woeful .895 save percentage last season. A goaltending
virtuoso is paramount for the Leafs. Coach and general manager
Pat Quinn employs an attacking style--Toronto led the East with
249 goals--that continually tests both netminders. The Leafs need
to add at least one defenseman with some bite, although Belfour
will benefit from the emergence of Bryan McCabe as an All-Star.

Sundin, whose 41 goals and 80 points led all NHL centers in
2001-02, reinforced the consensus that he's one of the game's top
10 players, but Toronto's failure to surround him with
complementary wingers will continue to be a drag on his
production. With his belated promotion to the No. 1 line last
season, Gary Roberts proved to be the kind of crease crasher with
good hands that Sundin needs, but Roberts is sidelined until at
least January following shoulder surgery. Unless Alyn McCauley
can replicate his playoff scoring (15 points in 20 games) and
Alex Mogilny (a former 76-goal man who had 24 last year) regains
his touch, the Leafs will be lucky to say, "We're Number
2!" --Michael Farber



If Mats Sundin scores 20 or more goals in '02-03, he'll tie the
team record for consecutive 20-goal seasons (nine) set by Ron
Ellis ('66-67 through '74-75) and Darryl Sittler ('72-73 through



OFFENSE 18 Little to like after Sundin and Mogilny
DEFENSE 20 Lack of depth hurts; Yushkevich will be missed
GOALTENDING 25 Problem area because Belfour is on downside
SPECIAL TEAMS 19 Unsung McCauley leads solid penalty killing
MANAGEMENT 18 Failure to sign Joseph could set franchise back