Toronto Maple Leafs: Playing For A Reputation

Mark MakuchCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2008

The Leafs sure know how to tease.

Looking to prove naysayers wrong in showing that they are not too slow, lacking in talent, or just plain sad, they have gone 8-4 in February. Plus they are only 6 points out of a playoff spot.

It remains ridiculously improbable that the Leafs could squeak in given their inconsistency this year. Looking at the standings, the Bruins have an equal shot of finishing first in the Northeast, as they sit only six points behind the once-fearsome Ottawa Senators.

Such is the parity in the league today.

Now before anyone gets too excited, it's clear that Fletcher doesn't believe in this team. Publicly stating that the team only played well with nothing on the line and that they would not be anywhere near their current form in September isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. That was quite a shot at the team.

He may as well have said, "What a bunch of losers we have here."

Fletcher may not have meant for it to be a challenge. In fact, I think he believes it. He owes no loyalty to anyone on the team and probably felt like he was just stating the obvious. If the no-trade clauses were not there, be sure this team would have been blown up on Tuesday.

The interesting thing now is that the players on this team are now playing for their reputations. They've all said how much they like the team and no one waived their no-trade clause because they wanted to stay. But to be labeled as a sad-sack of under-performing athletes, and then act like that would clearly make other GM's think twice about taking on members of this team. Who wants a proven loser on their team?

Over the remaining 17 games the Leafs players have an opportunity to salvage what's left of their reputations. Save for Sundin, and possibly Antropov, every single player has performed below expectations. That's quite a list. Can so many players who haven't done it all season with any degree of regularity actually get it together for the last six weeks?

There is one chance left for redemption. One last stretch to show that they have at least some degree of pride left in themselves, and show the hockey world they aren't the failures everyone seems to think they are.

A March Miracle on Bay Street would be high drama indeed.

Sadly, at the end of the day it is getting harder and harder to say I "be-leaf."