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Leafs Netminding Situation Clearer Than it Seems

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Jeff Marek hosts AM 640 Toronto's Leafs Lunch, also seen each weekday on Leafs TV, from noon to 2pm. Marek, along with co-host Bill Watters have their finger on the pulse of Leafs Nation and now joins the team.



February 1, 2006

(TORONTO) -- Will the real Ed Belfour please stand up?

Heading into last weekend's game against the Montreal Canadiens, Leafs head coach Pat Quinn had a big decision on his mind. 

Does he show faith in his number one goalie, Ed Belfour and play him as he has always done for the big game on Saturday night, or does he send a message down the bench, put egos aside and dress backup Mikael Tellqvist?

Ed Belfour is unquestionably the Leafs number one man.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

Ed Belfour had just been pulled the Thursday before against the Buffalo Sabres after letting in a couple of softies and as he made his way to the bench was jeered by the packed house at ACC that night.

Ouch!

Quinn elected to go with Tellqvist to jolt his team and give the Swede his first big chance to prove that he can be a number one goalie in the NHL. 

Tellqvist had a decent game, good while not great, but looked soft on both the Alex Kovalev goal where he slid too far out of position coming across the net and the Saku Koivu game winner where the Habs captain exploited Tellqvist's lack of rebound control.  An established NHL netminder likely stops both of those shots.

So if you're Pat Quinn what do you do heading into a back-to-back with the Panthers and Lightning?

Do you send Tellqvist back in for the Florida game, thinking that will be the easier of the two or do you give the veteran both games so he can play his way out of his so-called funk?

Belfour stood on his head both games, stoning the Panthers and then coming up huge against the Bolts.  Sure he got lit by both Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards in the shootout, but over the 60 minutes and five-minute overtime frame, Belfour was the best Leaf on the ice.

On the horizon for the Leafs are the Washington Capitals Friday at the MCI Center and then back home Saturday for a tilt with the New Jersey Devils. Next week has a Tuesday affair with the Thrashers and a home-and-home with the Rangers Friday and Saturday.

So what's a head coach to do? 

Considering the outstanding play, once again, of Belfour, look for Quinn to let the Eagle run the table and start every game leading up to the Olympic break. 

That's Pat Quinn's style as we've all seen ... let the vets play their way out of bad situations and don't embarrass them.  Compare this to the situation down the 401 with the Montreal Canadiens where Jose Theodore was once again yanked Tuesday night by Bob Gainey after the Carolina Hurricanes slid five past him on 10 shots.

If it were Quinn behind the bench, he would have left Theodore in the game and placed blame at the feet of the rest of the squad for not helping their goalie out.  Defending is a six-man operation, the coach would say. 

By pulling Theodore, Gainey is excusing the performance of the players in front of him.  That is not Pat Quinn's style whatsoever and while it may be painful at times, it is the best way to handle veteran goalies.  You can't embarrass them into playing better.

Mikael Tellqvist has shown flashes this season and could be a number one in the future.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

With every point crucial as the Leafs battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With the Thrashers, Bruins, Canadiens, Panthers and even the Islanders all vying for that spot, there's no room to get cute with your goalies.

Just as everyone said at the beginning of the season, "The Leafs will be as good as Ed Belfour" and so far that's held true. 

When he's on, the Leafs win. When he comes up lame they don't.  Now does he steal games as he used to on a consistent basis?  Not often, but if the Leafs have any chance to either make it in the playoffs or even win a round, it will all be because of Belfour.

Through Belfour's "slump" there were the usual calls to trade him and take whatever you can get - a common refrain heard here in Toronto by reactionary, short-term thinkers.

Just about every Leaf, including the captain, has been traded a hundred times on this market's radio call-in shows.  However, complicating any potential deal for the Eagle is his reported no-trade clause (now abolished under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but grandfathered in with existing deals). 

Belfour would have to waive said reported stipulation (as former St Louis Blues centre Doug Weight recently did in order to go from cellar to penthouse in Carolina), agree to the team the Leafs want to send him and will also insist, as a contingency of the deal, that said team picks up the option on his deal for the following season at over $4 million.  That may be a little too much for most teams to absorb.

So get used to it ... this year, it's the Belfour show or bust for the Buds.

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