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Maple Leafs Now No. 1 When It Comes to Stanley Cup Futility

Jun 10, 2010 – 12:06 PM
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Alan Adams

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The Toronto Maple Leafs suddenly find themselves best in class for all the wrong reasons.

When Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks bumped the forever-languishing Leafs to the top of the list for the NHL's longest championship drought at 43 years and counting.

Behind the Leafs for this ignominious honor are Los Angeles and St. Louis (two teams that came into existence in 1967, the year the Leafs last hoisted the hardware). And following the top three is Buffalo and Vancouver (39), Boston (37) and Washington (35).

Even worse for long-suffering Leaf fans is the fact that Toronto is the only team in this "elite" group not to appear in a Stanley Cup final at least once in that 43-year span.

And there's a good chance one or all of these teams on this list of also-rans will be celebrating a Cup championship before the Maple Leafs ever parade down Yonge Street in Hogtown.

Needless to say, general manager Brian Burke has his work cut out for him in his ongoing effort to turn the Leafs' into a Cup contender instead of their current status as pretender.

Granted Burke has some pieces in place, such as Dion Phaneuf on defence and Phil Kessel up front, but his team has an abundance of role players as forwards. Outside of Kessel, Toronto is lacking when it comes to top-six forwards.

That's where the trade of Tomas Kaberle is crucial to Burke's rebuilding plan. That along with making key signings in the free agent marketplace this summer. With no picks until the third round of the 2010 NHL Draft, it is little wonder that Burke considers the free agent market his best opportunity to strengthen his team in a hurry.

Trouble is, the other members of the longest championship drought club are in a much better position to take a run at winning hockey's Holy Grail before the Leafs can take a bold step in the standings, or just make the playoffs, for that matter.

Los Angeles is an up-and-coming team, much like Chicago was two years ago, and the Kings will be in the thick of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes if the Russian does what everybody expects and says no to the Kontinental Hockey League.

Kovalchuk may have deficiencies but he's a consistent 40-goal scorer.

The St. Louis Blues have plenty of cap space and will also be in the Kovalchuk sweepstakes. And the Blues have drafted well over the last couple of years and are close to turning things around there.

Vancouver will retain its berth as a Cup contender for a few more years, at least.

The Washington Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular-season team but sputtered in the playoffs.

Look for the Capitals to address their problems on defence by adding shot-blocker extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov of the Ottawa Senators via free agency this summer.

The Boston Bruins made headlines for the wrong reasons when they blew a three-game lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final.

But the Bruins will be back in the spotlight at the NHL Draft because they have the No. 2 overall pick thanks to the Kessel deal with Toronto. The Bruins also have Toronto's second-round pick, which means they will add valuable young assets to their club.

And sooner or later you have to think the Buffalo Sabres will get a break. Buffalo has loads of talent, much more than the Maple Leafs do up front at the very least.

This brings us back to the Maple Leafs.

Burke desperately wants to build a winner in Toronto, and he has shown he is not afraid to make bold moves.

He doesn't exactly have a lot of assets, which makes the Kaberle trade key.

After missing the playoffs in 1998 for the first time in 29 years, the Blackhawks only made one postseason appearance -- a short-lived stay in 2002 -- before the current core of high draft picks headlined by star winger Patrick Kane and 22-year-old captain Jonathan Toews led a rebirth of the franchise.

The Leafs had their run of six straight playoff appearances come to a screeching halt thanks to the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Since then, they have missed the post-season fun five consecutive seasons.

But Toronto fans keep filling the seats, in the hope something happens. And while their situation isn't hopeless, don't look for a Stanley Cup parade anytime in the near future.
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