The Leafs have a nice mixture of veteran defensemen—Borje Salming, 37, Chris Kotsopoulos, 29, Marsh, 30, Darren Veitch, 28, and Rick Lanz, 27, will carry the load—and young forwards. The forwards are led by a pair of 20-year-olds, Vincent Damphousse (8 goals, 10 assists) and Dan Marois (8, 7), and 22-year-old Ed Olczyk (9, 10), whose 42 goals in 1987-88 were the highlight of an otherwise dismal season.
"We're not going to have any more on-the-job training programs on defense," says Stellick, who has had to make do without the services of his best player, 22-year-old left wing Wendel Clark, who has been out of action since last February because of injuries to the muscles in his back. "I decided some of our young players should play a little less and learn how to win a little more."
The final, and probably most important, move Stellick made was to call in the Leafs' crusty coach, 55-year-old John Brophy, and tell him to tone down his act. A hard-nosed, profane man who spent 21 years playing minor league hockey, Brophy last season won a power struggle with McNamara that led to McNamara's firing. Ballard likes Brophy's old-fashioned ways; but Brophy's relationship with his players had become nearly untenable by the end of last season.
"We were blaming the coach, and he was blaming the players," recalls Olczyk. "He's very intense and expects people to bust their butts all the time, in practice, pregame skate, whatever. He got on people too much. The game's got to be fun. It can't be war all the time. This year he's more relaxed."
"I told John his tirades had to be few and far between, and he agreed," says Stellick. "The players had stopped listening to him. Broph's positive attributes—his intensity, his will to win, his fiery nature—had gone overboard and turned into negatives."
No one in Toronto is going overboard over the Leafs just yet. But there's a growing belief that the team's no longer headed for the dumper.