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Coveted defenceman could be available -- Part I

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Elliotte Friedman

Elliotte Friedman is a reporter and commentator at The Score, Canada's 24-hour sports highlights and information network. He has covered the Leafs extensively for a number of years and has a birds-eye view of what's going on with the Leafs and the NHL.

TORONTO -- If you are a hockey fan, chances are the name Mark Gandler makes you cringe in disgust. If you are a client, chances are he has you laughing all the way to the bank.

The agent has aggravated many NHL general managers, unwavering and unafraid to do salary battle on behalf of any of his players. And, hate him or loathe him, you can't argue with his pretty good track record of success.

He stood by Alexei Yashin during a lengthy fiasco that made the former Senator captain Canada's most hated hockey player. In the end, Yashin was traded to a team that gave him a 10-year contract worth almost $90 million.

Patrik Elias, currently one of the most underpaid NHLers at $750,000, fired his previous agent and hired Gandler in an effort to squeeze more money out of the tight-fisted Lou Lamoriello next summer.

GM and Coach Pat Quinn will have some decisions to make at the trade deadline.
Jeff Vinnick/Allsport
The Maple Leafs have not been immune, exchanging testy phone calls with Gandler during disagreements with Dmitry Yushkevich and the now-departed Igor Korolev. But an ingenious move by this disliked agent may benefit the Maple Leafs, giving them a chance to acquire a proven player who would make a difference in their lineup.

Darius Kasparaitis is available, and snaring him would seriously alter the Eastern Conference's power structure.

On New Year's Eve (when this article was published), the Maple Leafs stood fourth in the conference standings. But this has been a year of change on that side of the NHL. Of the top eight teams, four haven't been to the playoffs in at least two years: the Islanders (1994), the Rangers (1997), the Canadiens (1998), and the Bruins (1999). Two haven't advanced past the first round in a significant period of time: the Senators (1998) and the Hurricanes (1986, when you could say NHL hockey and Hartford in the same sentence).

Aside from the Maple Leafs, only the Flyers, who went to the Stanley Cup semifinals in 2000, have survived the first two weeks of the postseason in the last three years.

Meanwhile, the last three teams to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final (the Devils, the Sabres and the Capitals) are struggling for those lucrative home playoff dates.

Toronto has a chance to enter the second season as its conference's most experienced postseason performer. And this year, that could be a huge advantage, especially when you consider that this team could be the best since Pat Quinn and his Monte Cristos arrived on the scene.
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