Leafs Hold Outdoor Practice
Trade talks between teams are heating up around the league as the Olympic break approaches, says the Leafs' GM, but the captain is staying put.
|The Leafs get ready for the outdoor practice.
"I have not brought his name up,'' says Ferguson. "I know there are a number of teams that certainly would value the services that he provides to us, as we do.
"He has done that for a long time and he will continue to do that for a long time. We're fortunate to have him. He's a tremendous leader for us and that leadership is going to help us get back to where we need to be.''
Sundin has a no-trade clause in his contract and the 34-year-old Swedish centre says Toronto, where he's played since 1994, is the only city he wants to call home during hockey season.
Yet, the media has latched onto Sundin trade conjecture and is milking it for all it's worth _ even when Sundin and Ferguson say it won't happen.
"That's certainly not part of the game plan,'' Ferguson said after an outdoor team practice Wednesday.
He's determined to help lift the Leafs out of their current slide. They were ninth in the NHL's Eastern Conference, 20th overall, as they prepared for a home game against Buffalo on Thursday.
The Leafs have lost six in a row, and Pat Quinn's job security also has been debated in print and over the airwaves. Larry Tannenbaum, chairman of the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says the head coach needn't worry, and Quinn doesn't appear to be worried in the least.
"I'm not even thinking about it,'' he says. "We just try and do what I try to do every day - just focus on doing our jobs well.
"You have to ride through it. In this business, all kinds of people ride through ups and downs. It's just what happens in our business.''
Losing the league's top-scoring defenceman, Bryan McCabe, the team's leading goal scorer, Darcy Tucker, and big centre Eric Lindros all at the same time caused the downturn in the team's fortunes.
Ferguson and Quinn are confident that their returns, and Sundin's leadership, will lead to a resurgence.
"We've got 82 games to make the playoffs, and that's definitely what we're planning to do,'' says Ferguson. "I do believe that we have a club that will qualify.
"That being said, we have no intention of making a short-term, Band-Aid deal that doesn't make sense for us going forward.''
One or all of McCabe (groin), Lindros (wrist) and Tucker (ribs) could be back in the lineup by the middle of next week. Carlo Colaiacovo is out indefinitely with a concussion, and Andy Wozniewski has been called up from the AHL farm to replace him on defence.
McCabe is skating again, and Lindros had favourable MRI results after a cast was removed from his right wrist Tuesday.
"We've received good news,'' said Ferguson. "There doesn't appear to be any requirement for surgery and, as long as his wrist responds when he starts practising again, he should be ready to go whenever he's fit and strong enough to go.''
Meanwhile, Ferguson says goaltender Ed Belfour will continue to work the majority of games. Backup Mikael Tellqvist has better stats than Belfour, but Eddie the Eagle will remain No. 1 despite the team's losing streak, says Ferguson.
"We're real comfortable with the arrangement as it sits,'' he says. "We're real encouraged by Tellqvist's progress as an NHL player this year.
"He's made good strides. He's now proving he's a capable NHL backup. Can he be more? We think so. At the same time, Ed Belfour has won a Cup. He's done great things for this organization for a long time and continues to play at a high level. Those decisions ultimately are made by our coach, with input from me, and with feedback from performance.
"We're comfortable with the 1-2 punch we have right now.''
The outdoor practice at a west end park was to publicize the Leafs' partnership with Home Depot in funding improvements in facilities across the city. More than 300 children shivered in and shouted from wind-swept bleachers as the players scrimmaged. Quinn, his face red-raw from the cold and wind, said it was the first time he'd participated in an outdoor practice since the 1950s.
While saying Sundin's name isn't involved, Ferguson is continuing trade talks with other teams.
Pulling one off would be complicated given the new $39-million US salary cap. The Leafs' payroll currently is about $36 million US, but bonuses worth as much as $3 million to Jason Allison leave Ferguson little wriggle room. Toronto has 10 players under contract for 2006-2007 at around $19 million US.
"It's a different landscape but you've seen in other leagues that deals still get done,'' Ferguson said. "You've got teams that believe they're going to make a run and are willing to give up future assets for current returns, and other teams that are solely building for the future.
"I think (trade talks) have picked up lately. A lot of teams are meeting with their scouting staffs . . . to see what might be out there. That's occurring right now.''