There was a pall over the visitors dressing room at the Bell Centre late Saturday night, as the Maple Leafs digested the latest effects of an ongoing roster liquidation.

The particulars are well known. In the lead-up to a 4-1 loss to the Canadiens, James Reimer had been traded to the San Jose Sharks for the unceremonious return Watch series of a conditional fourth-round pick and a couple of journeyman. Neither event could have been considered unexpected. The Leafs long ago committed to losing plenty of games in a season in which they planned to trade plenty of veteran players for futures.

But given Reimers undeniable substance not just as a statistically solid goaltender to be respected, but as a workmanlike pro to be admired this moment cut deep. On most days this season Torontos NHLers have been a merry bunch of basement dwellers. Saturday wasnt one of those days.

Youve got bad times and good times, said Leo Komarov, who had been picked by the Leafs in the same 2006 draft in which Reimer was selected. Right now its not the best time.



Komarov was talking about Toronto, specifically, but he could have been referring to the NHL, generally. There are six weeks remaining in the regular season. And the stretch run is shaping up to be an abysmal exercise in formality. Barring a FIFA-worthy fix job, were about six weeks from experiencing a Stanley Cup tournament without a single Canadian-based entry something that has only happened one other time in the NHLs near-century of existence.

According to a Sunday glimpse of the playoff probability site SportsClubStats.com, 12 of the NHLs 16 most likely playoff teams were clear shoo-ins, their chances of postseason life ranging from 96% to 100%. As for teams 13 through 15 they were locks ranging from 92% to 74%. That left precisely one remaining berth that could be dressed up as a tossup. Lets just say a certain broadcasting behemoth didnt spend $5.2 billion on national TV rights for the privilege of hyping the epic battle between the Wild and Avalanche for the final Western wild-card spot.

Canadas game, in other words, is in desperate need of an occasional bright spot to salvage the season. Who could have guessed that its most likely to be the Toronto Maple Leafs?



By the arrival Mondays deadline, the same Leafs that were moping around Montreal on the weekend will have hit something approaching rock bottom. The lineup destruction at least, the plausible parts of it that dont involve the miraculous disappearance of Joffrey Lupuls cap hit will be mostly complete, at least for now.

And what Putlocker will come next, while it wont necessarily amount to wins that will jeopardize Torontos odds in the impending draft lottery, at least promises to enliven a fan base that has often tuned out.

As Leafs forward P.A. Parenteau, another likely trade-deadline mover, was saying the other day about his team of the moment: The futures going to be bright, I think, sooner than people believe.

Indeed, the coming weeks figure to be compelling in their own way, as the Maple Leafs, with their teardown set aside, are expected to begin limited-run NHL showcases of a cadre of promising prospects whove been tearing up the American Hockey League. Just as Lou Lamoriello shipped out Reimer to free up playing time for Marlies goaltending tandem of Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau, theres prime ice time available for would-be NHLers. And itll be in the clubs best interest to get an assessment of their AHL stars at the only level that truly matters.

Lots of guys in the American league are good players in the American league, Toronto head coach Mike Babcock was saying on Saturday. But youve got to be a good player here.

If the Maple Leafs play their big moments right and theyve got every interest in maximizing the buzz-inducing oomph of these things the coming weeks will come with a must-see list of marquee evenings.

It wont exclusively revolve around minor leaguers. Itll begin Monday, really, with Steven Stamkos Night at the Air Canada Centre. A little more than four months away from the moment the Leafs are expected to sell their sooner-than-people-believe vision to the 25-year-old impending free agent, a little face time wont hurt. And itll continue into April, when the draft lottery promises to be a Canadian ratings hit.

And itll almost certainly be intermingled with 19-year-old William Nylander making his NHL debut. Mike Babcock mentioned the name of the franchises No. 1 prospect after the Maple Leafs second game of the season, and its been the plan to bring him up all season. While the team hasnt yet announced their precise intentions regarding the teen Swede, it only makes sense to get his NHL debut over with in a season that could use a focal point. His big beginning will be one in a line.

Parenteau, for one, sees the Maple Leafs being relevant in a hurry.

I know they dont want to put expectations on themselves, Parenteau said. But I can see them, if they stay healthy, and if they get a couple more (veteran) pieces that can play I can see them fighting for a playoff spot as early as next year obviously.

Thats a plausible take. During their best stretch this season, before then-leading scorer James van Riemsdyk got hurt, the Maple Leafs played at a playoff-contending pace. Toronto appears to be building something of a multi-wave approach to the rebuild. Perhaps in view of the cautionary tale in Edmonton, where youth stacked upon youth has led to perpetual misery, the Leafs arent exclusively massing picks in the next handful of drafts. Theyre also considering the merits of rounding out next seasons mix with more experienced free agents like Stamkos and KHL defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, 24.

Maybe this is the easy part in any resurrection project, but a bad time is about to become better or, at least, better TV.