December 23, 2006
TORONTO (CP) -- The Toronto Maple Leafs may have to make the playoffs if veteran centre Michael Peca is to see any more action this season.
Peca, who underwent successful surgery Saturday to fix the tibia he fractured the previous night in Chicago, is expected to be sidelined at least three months. He was injured after colliding with Blackhawks defenceman Jim Vandermeer in the first period of Toronto's 3-1 loss Friday.
"Michael is recovering well,'' said Leafs GM John Ferguson. "We look forward to having him back for the playoffs.''
Ferguson said screws and plating were required to ensure full healing of the tibia bone, which sustained multiple fractures. But the GM was optimistic some of Toronto's younger players would step in and fill the void left by Peca, one of the team's top penalty killers.
"He's been a very good leader for us,'' Ferguson said of Peca, who has four goals and 11 assists in 35 games with Toronto this season. "Clearly, we're going to look for someone to pick up (his) minutes, someone who can do what he does shutting people down on the penalty kill.
"And we are looking forward to seeing the Alexander Steens, the Matt Stajans, (Alexander) Suglobovs we're going to determine whether or not these guys can step into (Peca's) role.''
The 32-year-old Peca signed a US$ 2.5-million, one-year deal with the Leafs last summer after helping the Edmonton Oilers reach the Stanley Cup final. The Toronto native has 164 goals and 245 assists in 728 career games, and has twice won the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward.
"Michael Peca is arguably one of the best defensive forwards in the league,'' captain Mats Sundin said after Saturday's 3-2 loss to Washington. "He's been our best guy on the (penalty kill).
"But a lot of teams go through injuries. We just have to make sure guys here pick up the slack.''
To fill Peca's roster spot, the Leafs recalled centre Kris Newbury from the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies. Newbury was second in Marlies' scoring with 10 goals and 20 assists in 32 games.
"He brings good grit, good energy,'' Ferguson said of Newbury, who played his first career NHL game in Toronto's 3-2 loss to Washington on Saturday. "He works hard and had a good camp for us - but at the same time there are a number of options for us in-house (with the Marlies).''