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Allison Misses Scrimmage But Fine

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO (CP) -- Jason Allison missed the first scrimmage with a minor hip problem. Eric Lindros was sent flying by a solid body check during that same scrimmage.

Day 2 at the Maple Leafs training camp reminded everyone on hand just how fragile Toronto's chances are of remaining among the NHL's top echelon teams.

The two oft-injured centres, brilliant when they're healthy, must stay out of the medical ward this season for Toronto to have any chance.

In the media fishbowl that is Toronto, Allison knew his no-show in the team's first official scrimmage of camp would cause a few snickers. But he can't worry about that.

""It's Toronto, that's something that comes with the territory,"" he told a media scrum likely as big as he's ever seen. ""But there's absolutely no injury, there's no problem. That's part of the reason I wanted to scrimmage today, I guess, so I wouldn't have to deal with this. But this won't be an issue. Just totally a precautionary thing.""

Allison, 30, signed a one-year deal worth at least $1.5 million US and as much as $4.5 million if he stays healthy and reaches all his performance bonuses. He hasn't played a game since January 2003 when he suffered three whiplash injuries in the space of 10 days and never in the world thought it would lead to serious neck problems that would knock him out for more than two years.

The lockout came at a good time for him.

""It definitely was beneficial,"" said Allison, who had a career-high 95 points with Boston in 2000-2001. ""It gave me extra time to get in better shape and heal and make sure I took all the right steps.""

And he's taken the right steps this week. He won't rush into anything until he's 100 per cent.

""You're trying to get yourself ready for the season. That's the most important thing,"" said Allison, who suffered the minor injury some 10 days ago while skating. ""Nobody's going to care how many goals you score in an intrasquad game or even in an exhibition game for that matter. I'm getting myself ready to have a great year and help this team do something in the playoffs. That's when it counts.

""I realize everything here is under the microscope. Other places people don't even pay attention the first week. But I'll be ready come Oct. 5.""

All eyes will also be on Lindros this season as he tries to recapture the kind of form that made him arguably the best player in the NHL in his early years. Some would argue he was the best player on the New York Rangers in 2003-04 when he had 32 points (10-22) through 39 games before yet another concussion sidelined him for the rest of the season.

But he told reporters on the opening day of camp that he passed his latest tests with flying colours earlier this month with Montreal head specialist Karen Johnson, the neurologist who has taken care of the Big E since 2000.

""Everything went very well,"" said Lindros, 32, who will earn $1.55 million on his one-year deal. ""There are no concerns. I think there has been plenty of time to recover from the situation that happened many years ago. I feel good about it.""

He was tested Tuesday when 23-year-old defenceman Staffan Kronwall decked Lindros into the boards during the intrasquad game.

A sheepish Kronwall understood the implications of his hit on Lindros.

""I knew it was him and I tried to hold back,"" said the 603, 209-pound Swede. ""I could have hit him harder. I definitely felt it wasn't the right guy to hit.

""You have to respect those guys. I want to earn his respect as a teammate.""

But Lindros was no worse for wear, quickly getting up after the Kronwall hit. He later sent prospect forward John Mitchell flying across the ice with a thunderous check and set up a scoring chance. And overall, the Big E looked good.

If Allison and Lindros do have solid comeback seasons, the Leafs pose an awesome force down the middle with captain Mats Sundin leading the way.

""We have three guys who have been top players at that position in their careers,"" head coach Pat Quinn said Tuesday. ""And that's a pleasant problem to have (in terms of ice time).

""I want our top three lines to be balanced.""

Which would suggest all three will start the season at centre.

""Would I ask one of them at some point this season to play the wing? Maybe,"" Quinn said. ""But that's not the plan at this point.""

And that's fine with Sundin, who said Tuesday that while he would play anywhere asked, he'd rather play centre.

""I just feel you're more involved in the play when you're in the middle,"" Sundin said.

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