Uncertain offseason looms for Quinn, team

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:46 PM ET

TORONTO -- Pat Quinn believed this was the year he would deliver the championship-starved Maple Leafs and their hockey-mad fans the Stanley Cup.

Everything seemed to be in place. The coach had playoff-savvy Ed Belfour in net and a resilient Mats Sundin as his captain, and the team bolstered its lineup with leaders Brian Leetch and Ron Francis at the trade deadline in March.

It wasn't nearly enough. The Leafs couldn't get past the second round, eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers for the second straight year -- this time on Jeremy Roenick's overtime goal in a 3-2 loss Tuesday.

"I can't speak for everybody, but I guess you have hopes and dreams. I kind of envisioned this team as being one that maybe had a little destiny to it," Quinn said after the Game 6 loss. "And when you have those hopes and dreams, like your fans do, it seems to be devastating right now.

"You forget all the good things your team has done because you focus on the fact that you don't have to come to work tomorrow."

The Leafs accomplished much this season, setting franchise records with 103 points and 23 road wins, while matching another mark with 45 regular-season victories.

But in Toronto, a city that considers itself the NHL's true Hockeytown, success is measured against the 13 championship banners that hang from the rafters.

The last one reads 1967.

It has been 37 years since Toronto won its last title, the second-longest drought behind Chicago, which last won in 1961. More disturbing, it's a span in which the Maple Leafs haven't even reached the Stanley Cup finals, the longest stretch of any team.

Quinn, who grew up in nearby Hamilton, Ontario, noted earlier this week that the burden of expectation is heavier in Toronto.

"Here in this city, even if you just squeak into the playoffs, you're expected to win it all," he said.

Instead, the Leafs enter an uncertain offseason, and not only because a labor dispute could disrupt the start of next season.

Quinn, who last summer relinquished his duties as the team's general manager, has one year left on his contract. There is speculation that GM John Ferguson might make a coaching change.

The move would come as part of what could be a major rebuilding project. The team is getting older, and the Leafs' $60 million in salaries would be too high if the NHL caps payrolls in its new collective bargaining agreement.

Only seven players, including Sundin, Leetch and Alexander Mogilny, are signed through next season. The remaining players are eligible this summer to become free agents -- either unrestricted (Belfour, Francis, Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts) or restricted (Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Nik Antropov).

Quinn was guarded when asked about his future.

"I don't want to look that far ahead. I've certainly enjoyed my time here," he said. "I would like to stay on. I'm not ready to go to the pasture yet."

The Leafs players expressed concern.

"With the CBA situation coming up, I would say that a lot of us are going to be doing some thinking," Roberts said.

"You're wondering what could have been," Sundin added.

As for whether this might have been this team's last hurrah, Sundin said: "I think everyone here is young at heart, and the way we've been playing, I hope not."

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