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End of an Era

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
June 30, 2006

TORONTO (CP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs continued to drastically change the face of the NHL franchise by letting popular veterans Tie Domi and Ed Belfour go Friday.
Tie Domi was loved by the fans.
(Getty Images/NHLI)

Coach Pat Quinn was fired after the team missed the playoffs, and new bench boss Paul Maurice will have a younger and faster team to work with next season.

"We're going to be able to start out in camp with a new direction, a new position direction with a lot of energy on the club,'' Leafs general manager John Ferguson said Friday at the Air Canada Centre.

Domi, one of the most popular Leafs for a decade for his knack of standing up for his teammates, was bought out, and Belfour, the No. 1 goaltender the last four years, didn't have the option year of his contract picked up.

To avoid paying enforcer Domi the $1.25-million US he would have earned in 2006-2007, the Leafs gave him two-thirds of that salary, which amounts to $833,000 spread over the next two years.

The 36-year-old right-winger is fourth all-time in NHL penalty minutes. He scored only five goals last season.

With fighting down and offence favoured in the new NHL, the Leafs decided it was time to close the book on the lengthy Domi chapter.

"The change in the game, the rules and the way it was going to be called, the transition game, speed - those things didn't play to his strengths,'' said Ferguson. "It's become more of a special teams game, which is not an area where he excelled or was relied upon.''

Also, having acquired Andrew Raycroft from Boston last Saturday, the Leafs opted not to exercise their option on Belfour's contract for 2006-2007 that would have paid him $4.48-million US. Like Domi, he'll get two-thirds of his salary to go away.

Belfour, 41, missed the last portion of the regular season with a recurring back problem. He won 22 of the 49 games in which he appeared and had a 3.29 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.

He passed the late Terry Sawchuk for second place in all-time NHL wins with a victory last Dec. 19.

"I know Eddie still wants to play,'' said Ferguson. "I've heard good things about his recovery and how he feels.''

Still, the Leafs wanted a younger goalie not as prone to physical breakdowns and Raycroft fits the bill.

"At this stage, we are taking a different direction, and we feel privileged to have had one of the game's great goalies play for the Maple Leafs,'' Ferguson said of Belfour.

Domi and Belfour become unrestricted free agents at noon Saturday.

"These are quality professionals who gave us great service and loyalty,'' said Ferguson. "In Tie's career, not that he's finished, he did a tough, tough job for longer than most people could have expected and he did it very well.''

Meanwhile, a familiar face - Gary Roberts - might be returning to the Leafs. The 40-year-old left-winger has a year left at $2.25 million US on his deal with the Florida Panthers, but they would trade him to his previous team for a third- or fourth-round draft pick to satisfy his desire to be closer to his teenaged daughter.

"There's nothing to report at this point,'' Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he expects to be aggressive in pursuing free agents. His primary need is a defenceman.

"We'll take advantage of the room we have under the cap but we'll do so efficiently,'' he said.

There remains a possibility Eric Lindros and Jason Allison could be back, although they'd probably have to take pay cuts to stay.

"We've been in touch with both of them,'' said Ferguson.

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