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Fresh air (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday October 24, 2007 2:02PM; Updated: Wednesday October 24, 2007 2:42PM
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Jamming The Crease

Jason Blake and the Maple Leafs have fallen, but can they get up on the road?
Jason Blake and the Maple Leafs have fallen, but can they get up on the road?
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Here's all you need to know about how lightly the Maple Leafs are regarded at the moment: Six games in a row, the opposing coach has tapped his backup goaltender on the shoulder. Of course, Atlanta's interim coach Don Waddell didn't have a choice on Tuesday night -- starter Kari Lehtonen is sidelined by (surprise!) a groin injury. But even so, the league's worst team still managed to dispose of the Barney Fife-like Leafs, 5-4 in a shootout, for only their second win of the season.

The Leafs bear watching over the next two weeks. After stumbling out of the blocks with just nine points in their first 10 games -- despite hosting eight of them in the supposedly friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre -- Toronto now plays six of seven on the road. The bunker mentality brought on by long trips has been known to energize teams, so it's conceivable that the Leafs might slash their 29th-ranked 4.10 GAA in half and steal a few wins on the road. But it's more likely that this is a team steaming headlong into crisis mode...

The soft attendance in several markets -- alright, several American markets --may not be an issue if you listen to the commissioner, but it hasn't completely escaped the attention of the league. When the Board of Governors gets around to approving a new schedule for next season, don't be surprised if the changes are fairly dramatic as a result. Along with ensuring that every team gets to player the other 29 at least once, there are whispers of support for pushing back the start of the season into mid-October, in part to avoid the crush of competition from pro, college and even high school football that impacts early ticket sales. Whether there's enough support to actually effect that move remains to be seen, but the value to the bottom line could outweigh any inconvenience of a more compacted schedule....

Since dealing franchise pillar Ryan Smyth to the Islanders at the deadline last season, the Oilers record is 5-22-1 absent his services. Smyth returned to Edmonton on Tuesday night as a member of the Avalanche, and was warmly greeted by both the fans and his former team, which offered a pre-game video tribute. Nice touch by a class organization, Brian Burke's opinion notwithstanding...

Paul Kelly will be handed a plate overflowing with contentious issues as he takes over as the NHLPA's Executive Director. The most important, but certainly not most pressing, will be his position on the union's ability to trigger a clause that would allow it to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement at the end of the 2008-09 season. Although there are certain to be vocal proponents of such a move -- Chris Chelios should be at the head of the line -- it's hard to imagine he would take the union down that path. Kelly, who was the lead prosecutor in the case against former NHLPA leader Alan Eagleson, is unlikely to be as chummy with the league as was his predecessor, Ted Saskin. But he's widely regarded as a man capable of moving the union, and the business of hockey, forward rather than someone who will focus on old battles, and that means another labor war so soon after the disastrous lockout of 2004-05 is highly unlikely.

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