As the Leafs reach the middle of this hockey season tied with the Pens for last place in the eastern conference, fans in Toronto are starting to lay the blame. Like clock-work, every year Leaf fans start the season off with high hopes and open wallets, two quantities that the Leaf management will inevitably squander away as the year progresses. Fortune telling is a cheap business, more dependent on hope then statistics, and it's obvious that Toronto fans have been using the former rather then the later to fuel their conviction of a triumphant playoff run. Now, as the hour hand reaches the lowest point and the Leafs find themselves in the middle of the season with one of the worst records in the Eastern conference, fans begin to forget about the game of hockey and move thier attentions towards an even older game; the blame game. This reporter will not stoop so low as to lay the blame at the feet of imagined culprits. It's been plainly obvious to myself (and any Toronto fan who chooses to open his eyes) that the Leafs are not a play-off team. It is utter madness to expect Vokoun to play every night and face 28.7 shots/game, or expect a defence that has a depth which couldn't even rival the depth of Paris Hilton's personality to improve on that dismal SA/G average. It was a flukish luck that saw the Leafs reach an almost 0.500 record before christmas, and the current implosion in the teams performance should not come unexpected. It is with difficulty that I force upon myself better intentions, and choose to write hope rather then the ever popular blame. Let me be the first to foster hope in beleagured Torontonians and point out the almost un-noticable silver ligning in the gray cloud obscuring the horizon. Let me bring to light some diamonds in the rough, which are so often overlooked by star-dazzled cup-hungry fans. Tony Salmelainen: The 24 year old Finish native currently finds himself in Finland where he's tied for leading point getter in the FNL with 46 points in 47 games. Salmelainen had some notiriaty in Finland in the first half of the season where he scored 5 goals in one game, a feat that has not been seen in the FNL for 15 years. After being drafted in 1999 by the NHL oilers in the 2nd round, he played two more years in Finland before coming to North America where he played just 13 games for the Edmonton Oilers befor the lock-out, failing to earn a spot due to his small 5'9" frame. Despite his size Salmelainen makes up for it with his incredibly fast skating, and is probably one of the fastest skaters on the ice. His skating, coupled with a quick release and an offensive eye make him an ideal candidate for the new NHL. Look for Salmelainen to flourish at his new home in Chicago in 2006/2007. Alexei Kaygorodov: Ottawa fans have been salivating over the possibilities that this young Russian center can bring to a Senators team already stacked with offense. There was much disapointment that Kaygorodov's contract obligations could not be cleared for the 2005/2006 season where he is currently playing in the RSL for Mettalurg and where he's accumalted 27 points in 44 games. Kaygorodov really impresed the hockey world last year, managing to come away with the RSL point leader title. That feat was all the more impressive considering he was playing with bonefide NHL stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Vincent Lacavalier, in a year where the NHL lock-out forced many NHLers to play in Russia. Currently he's playing second line to Malkin's first, so the reduction in point output is expected with the less ice-time. The loss in position to Malkin does not come unexpected due to rumours of Malkins extended contract with metallurg and his improvement in play. Canadian fans might remember Kaygorodov from the recent Spengler cup games, where he managed to put away a goal and two assists in Russia's win over Canada for the gold. Although Spezza's position is undoubtably secured, expect kaygorodov to secure a spot as a second line center. Martin St. Pierre An underdog story at it's finest, Martin st. pierre was ranked 3rd in points in the OHL in 2003/04 and was named OHL playoff MVP. However, due to his small 5'8" frame, he failed to get drafted by an NHL team and was looking doubtful to even land a pro contract. Martin was not disheartened, he managed to work his way onto the Edmonton Roadrunners from a training camp invitation. When that franchise disolved, he found himself in the AHL playing for the Norfolk Admirals where he is now second in points on the team, with 50 points in 51 games. Don't let Martin's small frame and great offensive potential fool you, he's one tough cookie, always looking at upending larger opponents and racking up 78 penalty minutes this year in the process. Probably the highest achievement to date for the AHL rookie was making the Canadian AHL all star team, the only Norfolk Admiral to be given the priveledge. During the all-star game he managed to rack up two goals as the Canadian AHL all-star team beat PlanetUSA 9- 4.