Mar 2, 2002
The hockey gods had to even out the playing field. For the past two and a half seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been the healthiest team in hockey. How quickly things change.
In the fourth period of a 4-1 win against Carolina, Curtis Joseph tried to get up after stopping a shot. His trapper seemed to get caught in the mesh, but it didn't look serious, until Joseph skated to the dressing room right afterwards. He broke the metacarpal bone in his ring finger; an injury that Pat Quinn has said will have their number one goaltender out four to six weeks.
The next day, an MRI confirmed what the problem was with forward Alex Mogilny, who had missed the previous six games sandwiched around the Olympic break. He has a crack on one of the vertebrae in his spine. The injury was suffered when he was checked by Brad Stuart and hit the boards tailbone first. He had to be helped from the ice.
These were the most recent additions to an injury list that also has rock-steady defenceman Dimitry Yushkevich on the sidelines. He suffered a blood clot in his leg, and is currently on a blood-thinning program. It is doubtful he will return this season, but he may if the Leafs go deep into the second round. There has been no timeline supplied by the club for his return.
Highly touted prospect Nikolai Antropov, who has been used as trade bait by Pat Quinn on several occasions, is out for the season as well. Playing with the St. John's Maple Leafs, he suffered a tear on the MCL in his left knee. Two years ago, he tore the right one in the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.
What's a General Manager to do? The Leafs' farm system is finally starting to produce players of NHL calbire after years of being decimated because of the Leafs' 'Trade for Now' philosophy. Quinn does not want to tamper with anything below his Leafs in Toronto, but even that can prove difficult.
To deal with the recent glut of injuries, Paul Healey has been called up to shore up the forward ranks. He recorded his first NHL point against the Hurricanes the same night Joseph injured his finger. Normally, the fourth line forward spot would go to big Wade Belak, but he's needed on defence for now, with the demotion of free agent disaster Anders Eriksson.
Cory Cross returned in the same game against Carolina, which was the first for the Leafs after the Olympic break. The lanky defenceman had an abdominal strain that kept him out for nearly two months. With Bryan McCabe's big steps this season into maturity, the Leafs are hoping that he will not abandon his offensive game, but taper it off slightly and be more physical in the defensive zone. Ironically, the check by Brad Stuart that injured Mogilny was a move that McCabe claims to be the innovator of, and names it the 'can-opener'.
The goaltending situation is a lot tougher for Quinn, the only person in the league to hold both GM and Head Coach duties. For now, Corey Schwab will be the number one starter by default, and Sebastien Centomo, an undrafted 20 year old who was playing in Memphis before being signed as a free-agent has been called up from St. John's to back him up.
This has many people feeling slightly uneasy about the Leafs' stretch drive. Assuming it will take 90 points to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs need only to muster 17 points in their final 23 games. The problem is that the Leafs have very few games left against bottom-feeding teams, and will need their best players in Sundin, Roberts and McCabe to really take this team by the neck and drag it to the playoffs. However... maintaining the status-quo may not be the best idea right now.
If things remain the same, Toronto will face Ottawa in the first round with home ice advantage. If the miraculous happens, and the Leafs pass Boston for the division lead, they would face New Jersey in the first round, the same team that eliminated the Leafs the past two seasons. If the Leafs slide a bit, then they would get a very favourable first round match-up against the Carolina Hurricanes. With a healthy Moginly in the lineup, it should be a series the Leafs could win, and give Joseph all the more time to heal himself.
The prospect of Corey Schwab being a number one starter scares a few people, myself included. He has lost twice as many as he has won in his career, but, to give him credit, he has played well in his relief of Joseph. There are a few goaltenders who could be available, including Mike Vernon of the Calgary Flames, Jeff Hackett of the Montreal Canadiens, and Stephan Fiset of the L.A. Kings. After this season, though, Curtis Joseph is to become a free-agent, and his displeasure with how Pat Quinn played him in the Olympics has most saying that he will be ready and waiting to test the market. So does Quinn trade for the short term or long term? Does he look for a defenseman of Yushkevitch quality, or wait for Karel Pilar to develop and mature? Or does Quinn stand pat... he is known for having a loyalty to his players, and will most likely wait for a couple of games to see just how well his team will play without three all-stars.
In Toronto, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
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