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Leafs prepare for axe to drop after third straight season out of playoffs

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Leafs prepare for axe to drop after third straight season out of playoffs

The Canadian Press
By:

MONTREAL - After missing the playoffs for a third season in a row for the first time in 80 years, winger Mark Bell perfectly summed up the sentiment of uncertainty in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room heading into a summer where there is sure to be sweeping changes.

"We can't do anything about that, those are changes management is going to make over the summer," said Bell, who scored his fourth goal of the season in Toronto's season-ending 3-1 loss at Montreal. "We can't worry about that, we just have to do our thing and come ready to play in September, whatever team we play on."

The Maple Leafs have nothing but questions surrounding every aspect of the team, from management to the coaching staff to the status of its core group of veteran players.

Aside from hiring a new general manager and seeing if head coach Paul Maurice is given a chance under the new boss, captain Mats Sundin will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, Pavel Kubina could be traded during a specific window this summer, and players like Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe or Jason Blake may be bought out or dealt.

"We can sit here and talk about it for the next five months to see what will happen," said goaltender Andrew Raycroft, another player who has a good chance of not returning next season. "But until people are in place and names are named and contracts are given out, there's so much that happens between now and whenever that time comes, so to sit here and speculate is a waste of breath."

Just in case Saturday's loss was indeed their final game as a member of the Leafs, both Tucker and McCabe finished the game in the dressing room after getting into fights in the final five minutes, while Kubina finished the game in the penalty box.

As for Maurice's future with the team, Blake was given an opportunity to give his coach an endorsement, but he passed it up.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Blake said. "It was just a disappointing year, that's all I can say."

Playing out the string when a team is eliminated from the playoffs is never easy, but it was especially difficult for Raycroft who has endured the worst season of his career and spent nearly the entire second half watching from the bench.

His thoughts on what he plans on doing over the coming weeks may be good advice for his teammates who rode a wave of optimism when they made a late push for the post-season, and then dealt with the disappointment of coming up short for a third straight season.

"I'm not going to think about hockey for a while," Raycroft said. "I won't be watching playoff games, I won't be watching highlights, I won't be watching talk shows, I won't be listening to the radio. I'll be as far away as I can get."

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Leafs prepare for axe to drop after third straight season out of playoffs