DG's Quick Hits- October 28, 2002

This week:

Leafs: Tis the season to forget?

Crackdown helping talented teams…and Tampa?

On the radar screen: The Nashville Predators’ guarantee, Jeff Hackett, the “Things Don’t Ever Change File”, the Minnesota Wild, the “We Can’t Make Up Our Minds” team, Mario Lemieux, the New York Rangers and one of history’s biggest mysteries and a lot more.LEAFS: TIS THE SEASON TO FORGET?

Although the first nine games of the regular season isn’t exactly going to decide the season, the way their season is going, the Toronto Maple Leafs may be looking at booking those golf tickets early. A dismal 2-6-1 start is the worst for the club in four years and, whenever the Leafs have started below .500 in the past they’ve missed the play-offs. Worse, losses to the lowly New York Rangers and Florida Panthers- games they should have won- and their overall lacklustre play of late suggest that the Leafs’ slide may not be a phase but permanent if things are not fixed soon.

“We know we have some skilled players. We don’t have many changes from last year when we had the third-best record in the league. What we have going on now is a little bit of fear. We are beating ourselves,” said coach Pat Quinn after the Leafs lost 4-1 to the Panthers and old teammate Dimitri Yushkevich. His players have suggested the same, as defenceman Bryan McCabe admits his play has been pathetic, but probably the biggest barb levied was by forward Alexander Mogilny, who says that the team is playing at its best but still can’t win. How kind. However, the real problem with Toronto is not a lack of talent- the Leafs are basically the same as last year- it’s the fact that talent simply isn’t playing well. Seeing Karel Pilar at -6 and playing Santa Claus with the puck isn’t exactly endearing, as is Shayne Corson and his two points (off two goals) and his -5. Both players are capable of much more and need to step up, and they’re not the only ones: I could go on. Simply put, Toronto’s talent needs to rediscover themselves or else they’ll find themselves playing elsewhere…or on the golf course come April.

CRACKDOWN HELPING TALENTED TEAMS…AND TAMPA?

Looking at the National Hockey League standings, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces on top due to the fact they’re supremely talented and that the new NHL rules allow for more useage of that talent. You’ll also find the virtually talentless teams at the bottom…except one. The Tampa Bay Lightning, at 5-1-2, are defying the odds and playing great hockey on the heels of Nikolai Khabibulin’s great goaltending and impressive starts by Martin St. Louis and (get this) Vincent Lecavalier, among others. The team is leading the Southeast Division and could finally make the play-offs for the first time since 1995-96.

There is one big “but”, though. Just how Toronto can’t be written off for its terrible start, Tampa can’t exactly be praised for its magnificent start for more than just “they’ve only played eight games”. They’ve only faced one “difficult” opponent (if you will)- the New Jersey Devils- and had their hides handed to them on a platter. Fortunately, they don’t get the Philadelphia Flyers until November 19, but the Lightning have yet to prove that they can beat teams of significance and not just bully the weak. While Tampa’s shown that they could move on to bigger and better things this year, they still have 74 games to prove themselves, with a lot of convincing still needed.

ON THE RADAR SCREEN

The Nashville Predators guaranteed their fans a play-off berth or else they’d refund everyone the increase in ticket prices. Guess they’re starting to order those refunds now…Jeff Hackett’s great play is a precursor to something else: the ticking time bomb that is Jose Theodore…Tom Barrasso returns to a team known for the blue and gold, and no I don’t mean the Buffalo Sabres (who used to wear blue and gold): I mean the St. Louis Blues. Does this mean the Blues can finally start to prove they belong with the NHL’s elite? Maybe, but as long as the Blues qualify for the playoffs I don’t care…The poor Atlanta Thrashers, winless after eight games. Then again, with Ted Turner’s money, I don’t feel sorry for them anymore…From the “Things Don’t Ever Change” file: the New York Rangers, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets…Speaking of surprises, the Minnesota Wild at 6-1-1, with wins over the Dallas Stars and Boston Bruins to boot. Could they be for real? I’ll check back in June just to find out…So, the Buffalo Sabres went from great to awful in a week. How typical. They’ve always been a mixed bag for as long as I can remember. I just hope their ownership situation isn’t one, though…The “We Can’t Make Up Our Mind” team: the Vancouver Canucks. They either have stretches of greatness or stretches of poorness, unable to decide if they’re good or bad. Make up your mind guys. By the way, if you don’t start winning, heads will roll. That I guarantee…I wonder if Byron Dafoe will start begging for teams to sign him. Good goaltenders don’t come too often, so why he’s still available is beyond me…Mario Lemieux is leading the NHL in points. No, this isn’t 1997 either. Nice to see a real talent up there…Finally: someone explain the Rangers for me. How do you have the NHL’s highest payroll and one of the weakest teams? It must be one of history’s most unsolved mysteries, right up there with Stonehenge and Jack The Ripper. Just don’t think that Madison Square Garden will become the Eighth Wonder of the World. That I assure you of.

-DG