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Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson (C) looks up at a the replay as young fans celebrate the Vancouver Canucks' fourth goal during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia December 18, 2010.


The five days off between games as part of a Christmas break are going to involve an awful lot of soul searching for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With only eight wins in their past 29 games, the Leafs have fewer points entering the holiday than any season since 1996-97 and are on pace to finish with the third worst record in the NHL.

The problems are numerous, too, with no offence being generated from three forward lines or the defence, poor special teams and below average goaltending.

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The only good news in the standings is that they have some company near the bottom of the standings, with five teams within three points ahead of them.

With so many other teams struggling, crawling out the NHL's bottom five - and preventing another lottery pick from going to the Boston Bruins in June - is possible if Toronto plays well over its final 49 games.

Making the playoffs, however, is not.

According to sports probability website, the Leafs now have only a 0.76-per-cent chance to make the playoffs, falling well off an Eastern Conference postseason pace that has picked up considerably the past few weeks.

Toronto needs a 28-15-6 record to close the year simply to get to 90 points, a mark that likely won't even be enough given the eighth-place team - believe it or not, the Bruins - is on pace for 97 points this season.

Looking beyond the remainder of this season, however, is not something coach Ron Wilson can do.

"The thing is you want to win every game," Wilson said. "It doesn't matter what team you're coaching. You want to win every single night so when you don't win, you're disappointed.

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"It's because you compete. Like a lot of guys, I've been competing at whatever I do my whole life. When you compete, you want to win. That's what we're in this for."

From Wilson's perspective, a strong finish to the season could be enough to show general manager Brian Burke that he deserves to stay on for the final year of his four-year deal and that he has made progress with a young team.

Wilson has coached a team through three playoff-less seasons in the past and lived to tell about it, guiding the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the mid-1990s from bottom feeder to playoff team in his fourth season.

He said he believes this Leafs team isn't as good as it was during a 4-0-1 start to the season or as bad as it has been the past two months.

"We're somewhere in between, I know that," Wilson said. "We've just got to get some guys going who've been in mighty slumps for quite a while."

At this point, however, waiting for that shift won't change the ultimate outcome.

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While his coach attempts to save an already lost season, Burke likely already has his eye on next year - his pivotal third full campaign at the helm of the franchise - as he tries to determine what parts he can salvage from this sagging group.

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