- The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their best defenceman yesterday when Robert Svehla announced his retirement.
Rich Winter, Svehla's agent, sent out a fax that said his 34-year-old client had accepted a position with Dukla Trencin, a club team in Svehla's native Slovakia. Svehla will be the team's vice-president in charge of junior player development.
Svehla is playing for Slovakia at the world championships in Finland and was not available for comment. Winter was travelling yesterday and was also not available for comment.
|Svehla plans to spend his retirement in his native Slovakia.|
Graig Abel Photography
Winter and Svhela first announced that the player was considering retirement after the Leafs were knocked out of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Flyers. At the time, it was regarded as a contract ploy, since Svehla has threatened retirement in the past.
The Maple Leafs have an option year on Svhela's contract at a salary of $4 million US and Bill Watters, the assistant to the general manager, said the Leafs will exercise it. This will prevent Svehla from playing for any team other than the Maple Leafs.
"That's his prerogative,'' Watters said of Svehla`s announcement, adding that the Leafs will not offer him any more than the $4-million salary in the contract option. "If he`s announced his retirement, then he`s retired.
"We`re exercising the option, so that ends the contract ruse right there.''
However, to be officially recognized as a retired player by the National Hockey League, a player has to sign documents to that effect. Watters said Svehla has not signed his retirement papers yet and does not know if he plans to do so.
The Leafs went through the retirement scenario last year with Svehla when he told the Florida Panthers he was retiring rather than returning to the team for another season. But when the Leafs put out feelers to him about a new contract, he indicated he would play again, and the Leafs traded defenceman Dmitry Yushkevich for him.
Svehla signed a contract with the Leafs for about $3.5-million with an unusual condition. Only $2.8-million was registered as his NHL salary, with the rest going to Dukla Trencin, the cash-strapped club team where Svehla once played.
It is thought a similar arrangement would have been in place for his salary next season.
Losing Svehla is a tough blow for the Leafs, who are in desperate need of a couple of elite defencemen. By the end of the regular season, Svehla was the team`s best defenceman.
His 43 points were the most among the Leafs' defencemen, and he was equally skilled in his own end.