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Shoalts: Maple Leafs forced to play waiting game

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle watches players practice

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The four-day break in the NHL schedule could not have come at a worse time for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Not only does it interrupt the momentum of a three-game winning streak but it gives the players plenty of time two more days and nights to sit and listen to the chatter on all forms of media that leads up to the NHL's trade deadline on Wednesday. Despite the fact Leafs general manager David Nonis made it clear his main interest is getting a veteran goaltender cheaply to serve as a backup and insurance for No. 1 keeper James Reimer, this will not muffle the usual frenzy of speculation in Toronto.

But the way Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle sees it, there are some good things about this, even if the likes of backup goalie Ben Scrivens and other impressionable youngsters will not sleep much.

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"There's nothing you can say to them other than focus on what you can control," Carlyle said after running the players through a brisk practice Monday. "They can't control the things that are happening off the ice.

"As a player you have to understand these are tense times. There are lots of rumours floating around and there is usually some movement. [But] if half the trades they talk about are completed it would be a banner year for trades. The issue is, you are a professional athlete, it's part of the business."

On the playing side of it, Carlyle said he does not look at the four days off as his players being dragged to a standstill after a winning run that saw them get at least a point in their last eight games. It is an opportunity for precious practice time in a lockout-compacted schedule.

"It's a welcome break for us," Carlyle said. "Now we have three days to get practice underneath us, a little bit of conditioning, team building, all those kinds of things you like to put in place before you venture out into the last stretch. The last stretch of games is obviously the most important for us and we'd like to forge forward."

Well, a cynic might say, "Hey, coach, be careful about that forge-forward stuff. A little too much of it might hurt you in the playoffs."

Right now, the Leafs are tied in points at 44 with the fifth-place Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference but sit in sixth because the Sens have a game in hand. Their win over the Senators last Saturday also put the Leafs in contention for fourth place, which is held by the Boston Bruins with 48 points.

However, knocking the Bruins out of fourth over the last 12 games of the season might be ill-advised, since that would mean playing the fifth-place team in the opening round of the playoffs. At this point, that would likely be the Bruins or perhaps the Senators.

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But if the Leafs sneak along in the weeds to stay in sixth place, chances are they would meet the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. Since the 18-16-2 Jets are seeded third because they lead the Southeast Division, this is much preferable to the 22-8-4 Bruins, who have owned the Leafs for the last four years.

No, your agent did not lay this scenario out to Carlyle. Even if the coach's manual allowed for speculation about relaxing your effort in some games, the NHL head office would take a dim view.

In the meantime, Leaf fans can amuse themselves thinking about which goaltender David Nonis may pursue. However, it is unlikely to be Roberto Luongo or even Miikka Kiprusoff, whom Nonis is supposedly talking to Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster about, as both will attract a price Nonis is not willing to pay.

Don't be surprised if Nonis ends up shopping at the NHL equivalent of the Dollar Store, poking around at the likes of, say, Edmonton Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, rather than someone who would cost a young roster player, a prospect or a high draft pick.

"But I have to caution everybody that it's only if it makes sense for us and if the price tag is reasonable," Nonis said of a potential goalie trade. "If not, we're comfortable with what we have."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More


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