July 19, 2006
TORONTO (CP) - That's it.
Unless a team knocks his socks off with a trade offer, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson says he's done revamping his lineup for the 2006-07 season.
"And we feel better about it,'' Ferguson said Tuesday after announcing the signing of veteran centre Michael Peca.
Once forward Matt Stajan re-signs this month, the Leafs' salary cap number will stand at just under $43 million US for 23 players, $1 million short of the $44-million limit and Toronto wants to keep that space as leeway for injuries.
Gone from the team that missed the playoffs last season are goalie Ed Belfour, tough guy Tie Domi, centres Jason Allison and Eric Lindros, defencemen Alexander Khavanov, Luke Richardson and Aki Berg.
The newcomers include Peca, defencemen Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill and goalie Andrew Raycroft while youngsters from the AHL's Marlies will fight for two or three spots on defence.
"The guys we lost were big parts of our hockey club,'' said Leafs winger Darcy Tucker. "Those are holes that you don't necessarily fill by just going out and signing people but at the same time the guys they did bring in are great players in their own right.''
Tucker, who played with Kubina in Tampa, calls the blue-liner a character guy and says Gill "is a great guy on the penalty kill.''
He was also impressed with the acquisition of Raycroft.
"Raycroft was a very astute move by John to find a young guy that was rookie of the year and can have a great career, he's only 26 years old, heck, what else can you ask for,'' said Tucker, who was also thrilled to get Peca on board. "I'm excited about our team.''
For the new-look Leafs, it all started behind the bench, in Ferguson's opinion.
"Bringing Paul Maurice in, primarily for me that was the biggest change,'' Ferguson said of his new head coach, who succeeded Pat Quinn after the season. "That provided the foundation to then move on to our club and bring in the type of players that would best address areas that were priorities.''
Specifically, Ferguson said, the Leafs wanted to improve in goal, on defence and up the middle, the last of which was done when the two-time Selke Trophy winning Peca signed a $2.5-million US, one-year deal.
"Michael gives us that two-way presence up the middle, a great shutdown guy and faceoff guy and also a guy that can chip in a transition role and on the penalty kill,'' said Ferguson.
Maurice remembers preparing his Carolina Hurricanes to face any team Peca was on. It wasn't easy.
"I didn't want to waste a shift,'' said Maurice. "And that's what I felt I was doing. If I saw him on the ice I made sure to have (top centre) Ron Francis up next after. I didn't care what they had coming next, I was trying to keep my top guy away from Mike. In that way he changes a game.''
Peca, along with Kubina and Gill, gives the team the toughness Ferguson was looking for.
"Our plan was to put together a club that's more resilient, better an adapting to whatever style that's being played,'' Ferguson said. "We are going to promote a more up-tempo style but also we need to be better in our zone _ collectively. And better through the neutral zone, being a puck-possession team and eliminating turnovers, helping our goaltender see less odd-man rushes, limit chances.
"And get on people and create troubles in the offensive zone.''
Many Leafs fans had hoped Ferguson could nail down a scoring winger for captain and first-line centre Mats Sundin. But the best available, Patrick Elias, re-signed in New Jersey and Ferguson decided Peca added more to the team than getting a free-agent winger like Anson Carter, who had 33 goals last season in Vancouver.
"If you count our goals from last year (ninth in the NHL in goals for), that was not an area that kept us out of the playoffs,'' said Ferguson. "We did a mass deal of offence on the power play and there's certainly no reason to be we'll be any less productive there. But some of our players ended up minus players, our five on five play needed an upgrade and we think we've done that.
"The net effect is, we're going to give up fewer, and we're planning on scoring just as many if not more. I like that mix.''
With Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Gill and Kubina cemented as Toronto's top four on the blue-line, that opens up two or three spots depending on swingman Wade Belak, who can either be the seventh defenceman or the 13th forward.
Young defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo, Staffan Kronwall, Jay Harrison, Brendan Bell, Andy Wozniewski and Ian White will battle it out for those 2-3 openings come training camp.
"It's going to make for a great camp,'' said Ferguson.