The Bigger They Are. . .
Next week could be very, very interesting in two of Canada's largest hockey cities.
Or very, very ugly.
The Maple Leafs, barring a turnaround that would make the Miracle Mets look like mere poseurs by comparison, won't be in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Surprisingly, the Vancouver Canucks may not be either.
The Leafs have been in their current predicament for more than two weeks and at least can rest slightly easier with the knowledge they couldn't have done much more since their choke job in Montreal last month to end their season on a positive note.
But the Canucks? That's a whole different story.
The Edmonton Oilers, winners of three of their past seven, appear to be trying desperately to give the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth to the Canucks. Sunday in St. Louis, the Oil coughed up a furball, losing 2-1 to a Blues team that hadn't won in 13. The visiting Albertans were even a little churlish in their demeanor, refusing to participate in a pre-game ceremony honoring Al MacInnis because they felt it was inappropriate before an important late season game.
That left the Canucks with a game in hand and a chance to catch the Oilers last night with a win over Anaheim.
Instead, Marc Crawford's team fell flat on its face, losing 4-2. Markus Naslund stretched his goal-less streak to nine games, while Mr. Olympian himself, Todd Bertuzzi, couldn't put the puck in the net again and has now contributed to his team's desperate drive for a playoff berth with three goals in his last 22 games.
So much for rehabilitation.
He stunk it up in Turin, and is now failing the team that backed his indefensible actions, having managed just 23 goals while being a huge minus all season.
If this were theatre, it might be entitled The Curse of Steve Moore.
Bertuzzi has three final games to redeem himself, to do something that would be equivalent to value for his $5.3 million salary. The Canucks end the season with a home-and-home series with San Jose tomorrow and Thursday, then finish up their season at GM Place against, fittingly, the Colorado Avalanche, on Saturday night.
Edmonton, which made all the big moves last summer by bringing in Chris Pronger and Mike Peca, finishes with a game tonight in Detroit and then two home game, Thursday against the sizzling Ducks and Monday versus the Avalanche.
If the 'Nucks can't catch the wobbling Oilers and do indeed miss the big dance, you can expect Bertuzzi to be shipped out of town, and for Crawford to lose his job, as well. That might supersede the carnage in Toronto, where it's unclear what will happen to GM John Ferguson and head coach Pat Quinn, although MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum recently declared both will be working for the team next season.
Maybe the two sides should trade problems. Crawford and Bertuzzi for Quinn, Richard Peddie and the right to buy out Ed Belfour for $1.5 million in June.
After all, not much else has made sense in either city this season.