TORONTO - With training camp inching closer the 2002-03 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks a lot different than its predecessor.
The biggest change will be the addition of Eddie Belfour, the veteran netminder looking to rebound from a tough year with the Dallas Stars. GM Pat Quinn learned a lot about "The Eagle" at the Olympics when he accepted his third goalie role.
| Ed Belfour is the biggest change to the Leafs lineup in 2002-03. |
The move came quickly after Curtis Joseph decided the Leafs weren't doing enough to get him the Stanley Cup ring. Cujo turned down a deal which would have made him the highest paid goalie in the NHL to join the Detroit Red Wings after Dominik Hasek walked away from the game.
Joseph wasn't the only contract giving Leafs' brass headaches. Dmitry Yushkevich was a restricted free agent with just one year left before he would qualify for unrestricted free agency. When agent Mark Gandler sent an initial seven-year proposal, Quinn knew trouble was coming and he shipped the problem to the Florida Panthers for Robert Svehla.
Svehla, who the Leafs had rated a little higher than Yushkevich, was coaxed out of retirement after the Leafs agreed to a working relationship and financial agreement with his old club team Dukla Trencin. The durable defenceman signed a series of one-year deals with the club.
Other new additions are forwards Tom Fitzgerald, Aaron Gavey, Josh Holden and Nathan Barrett. Outgoing talent includes Garry Valk, Nathan Dempsey, Don MacLean and Jeff Farkas.
The acquisition of Trevor Kidd has solved the backup goalie problem, giving both Mikael Tellqvist and Sebastien Centomo the chance for more seasoning in the minors.
Injuries may give a couple other young kids a chance to crack the lineup early in the season.
Gary Roberts, who led the Leafs with 19 points in the playoffs, has already had surgery on one shoulder and will have the same procedure on the other in the coming weeks. He isn't projected to be back in the lineup until January or February.
Veteran Jyrki Lumme is trying to avoid the same fate through rehabilitation. Lumme was injured during the playoffs and would be a tough loss for the team to take, especially if Cory Cross doesn't return, which appears more and more likely.
Mikael Renberg cut his bicep muscle in a boating accident but is expected to be healthy and ready for training camp. He should also be cleared from the hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of the playoffs.
Roberts' absence could open the door for Alexei Ponikarovsky. He played very well as a callup throughout the playoffs and looks ready to make the jump. Nik Antropov is coming off his second knee surgery in as many years and will get a chance when healthy.
Karel Pilar will be called on to fill any role left by either Lumme or Cross. Just before he had his playoff run ended by a broken thumb he was getting top-four type ice time. Anders Eriksson will also hope to build on improvements made in the playoffs after a disappointing regular season.
Toronto successfully avoided arbitration with all of its restricted free agents. Alyn McCauley, Jonas Hoglund and Wade Belak were the first to agree to terms. Defenceman Aki Berg looked as though he might actually go through with the process but in the end agreed to a multi-year deal.
Many believed the Leafs were going to be big players on the free agent market but were basically shut out of the big names except for Belfour and re-signing Tie Domi. That doesn't mean the shopping is over.
Quinn said the Leafs have more salary to spend and will be looking to deal with a team eager to dump some high-priced talent for prospects. Toronto has started to stockpile young assets and that could be used to finance another Cup run.
All the fun begins at training camp just days away.