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Free agents move for different reasons

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Matt Akler

Though it looks like there may not be any more marquee names signed by the Maple Leafs as free agents this summer, that is certainly no reason to panic. Toronto, coming off a conference final appearance, was one of the few teams in the NHL to go after big-name players and actually land one.

"There's one team in our conference that's made some moves. That's New York. We targeted two guys, actually three - Belfour - and we got one of them," Pat Quinn, the Leafs general manager and head coach, said on Monday. "Our first priority was getting a goaltender and we got one."

He made no secret of the fact that the other two he was referring to were centre Bobby Holik and defenceman Darius Kasparaitis, both of whom chose to sign with the Rangers.

"It was pretty clear to us that factors came into play that couldn't have changed their minds by getting on a plane or anything else," explained Quinn. "One guy lives right there, the other guy has his boat and summer home there. They don't have to move. We were right there with the money."

Shayne Corson returned near home to play for the Leafs .
Quinn added that winger Bill Guerin became a secondary target, although he chose to play in Dallas with the no-tax status of living in Texas, being a major attraction.

When players become free agents they weigh a number of factors in deciding where to play, and money is always near the top of the list, but it is rarely the only item on that list. Big factors are where they grew up and where they want to live.

"I think it has a big impact. American kids don't want to come here, they're not attracted to Toronto for any reason, but still Canadian boys want to come here," added Quinn. "It was a big factor with Roberts, Corson and Steve Thomas. They came here because it's Toronto. Some guys from the Iron Curtain don't have an attachment here. The two big guys we targeted make their home in New York."

Another factor in signing free agents was the plan to avoid getting into too many long-term deals. Quinn touched on the fact that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will be pushing for cost certainty when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2004 and labour negotiations between the players and league take place.

"We want to be in a good position not to bury the organization with contracts you can't get rid of. If you've got three guys making $24 million and your limit is $35 million, that's not a good situation. How would you pay the rest of the team? Being prudent for this organization was a matter of when Armageddon is finished to not be bogged down with big contracts."

Remember that this is a club that has been more than willing to spend the big bucks when the right player is involved.

"We stepped up with Mats last year and we were pretty close with Curtis this year. Since I've been here the payroll has gone up dramatically. Last year we were sixth in the league ($49 million U.S.), we're the highest Canadian team, we have to deal with the 2/3 dollar. These guys (owners) have spent money," stated Quinn.

With all the critics pointing out what the Leafs haven't done this offseason, many seem to have forgotten what happened on the ice a few months ago.

"We're a 100-point team. A lot of things that happened with this team in the playoffs were things we really liked. Things worked pretty well for us last year. This is a team in pretty good shape."

And the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup?

"I think we'll be in a good position to take a good run at it," assessed Quinn. "Detroit has won three in the last six years, but have also been a first-round knockout. New Jersey has been knocked out in the first round."

"There are no guarantees."
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