The Maple Leafs are on the move. They're shifting from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference, which will enable them to play the Canadiens, their fiercest rivals, more often. Then, in February, Toronto will ditch Maple Leaf Gardens, its home since 1931, for the Air Canada Centre, a spiffy new $174 million arena. Unfortunately for Toronto fans, their team won't move in the most important place, the standings.
If the Leafs (30-43-9 last season) are to improve, they must upgrade an inept offense that in '97-98 scored only 194 goals, the fourth fewest in the league. To make matters worse, Toronto's anemic power play produced on only 11.4% of its opportunities (25th in the NHL). Center Mats Sundin is the Leafs' prime scoring threat, but he's unlikely to surpass his 33 goals of last season without help. Derek King is the only other Maple Leaf to score more than 20 goals. Toronto is counting on injury-plagued free-agent signee Steve Thomas to bolster its attack, but he scored a scant 29 goals over the last two years with the Devils.
Behind the bench Pat Quinn, 55, replaces Mike Murphy, who was fired after failing to guide the Maple Leafs to the playoffs in his two seasons in Toronto. Quinn hopes to punch up the Leafs' offense with an aggressive attack that features a quick transition game. He'll also work to improve Toronto's mental state, something he feels held the Leafs back last season. "If you're not sure you can win, that's a bigger obstacle than a lack of skill," he says.
Goaltending is one area in which Toronto is skillful. In July the Maple Leafs signed star free agent Curtis Joseph to a four-year, $24 million deal. The plan was to trade last year's starter, Felix Potvin, for a scoring forward, but at week's end Toronto hadn't been able to work a deal for him.
Quinn hopes the new arena and the conference switch might help reverse Toronto's fortunes, but he says the most important change would be the Leafs' figuring out how to win. "A team can get so defense-oriented that it views breaking up the other team's attack as success," he says. "We have to alter the mindset of the team. Instead of sitting back, we have to get in someone's face and make him beat us."