Keeping Domi a tough decision

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

All his life, all Tie Domi wanted was to play for the Maple Leafs.

That has been his identification, his calling card. Away from family and close friends, that has defined who and what he is.

Only now, as the days get closer to June 15 -- the deadline for buying players out -- his place with the Maple Leafs is not just in question, it has become an open forum debate.

Only now, as general manager John Ferguson must decide what he believes is right -- to buy out or not buy out, that is his Shakespearean question -- Domi is left to wait and wonder and try as hard as possible to avoid the speculation.

Never one to shy away from headlines, these are the headlines he'd rather do without. Never one to keep from speaking his mind, this is his time to be silent.

Already, as he heard unconfirmed reports that the Leafs will buy out the final year of his contract, no one has told him this is the way it will be.

In fairness, this isn't a simple decision for anyone involved. And it is the kind of decision where the answers aren't so much about right and wrong, or cut and dried. Oddly, whichever direction Ferguson takes will be followed with much noise, a lot of it signifying nothing.

The real truth here: Keeping Tie Domi for the final year of his contract isn't the kind of move that will set the Leafs on the path to a parade. But conversely, it isn't a move that will set them back, either.

That is what makes this a kind of uneasy tightrope walk for everyone involved. Domi doesn't want to quit, doesn't want to play anywhere else. That much became apparent last summer when he had options to go to other teams for more money and more years.

He chose to stay. He chose to be a Leaf.

On the other side, because Domi will turn 37 in November, the math and the money don't exactly accomplish what Ferguson would truly want here.

You see, Domi is set to earn $1.2 million US this coming season. By the ever-confusing terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Leafs would have to pay him two-thirds of that money to make him go away.

But the entire salary -- the $1.2 million -- would count against the salary cap over the next two Toronto seasons because of Domi's year of birth.

In other words, if it's Ferguson's plan to let Domi go -- as some leaks are suggesting happily -- the plan begins with a $600,000 salary cap hit for each of the next two seasons.

So now do the math. The Leafs would have to pay $450,000 at the absolute least to replace Domi on the roster with another fourth-liner. At the same time, they would be taking a $600,000 salary cap hit for each of the next two seasons to cover off the $1.2 million of Domi's contact.

Added up, the Leafs would be paying a minimum of $1.05 million for a player who may be no better than Domi at $1.2 million.

Is it worth just over $100,000 to upset Mats Sundin, the Leafs' best player and Domi's closest dressing room ally?

Is that a gamble worth taking at this time?

Is it worth less than $200,000 to remove a face of your franchise, a community presence, a name, when you aren't certain if Bryan McCabe is returning, when you aren't certain about your team character or leadership?

For the record, those who suggest the player to replace Domi is Ben Ondrus are slightly myopic. The youngster played 22 games for the Leafs last season, registered no points and was a minus-10 for a team that won the majority of the final 22. Ondrus was a plus-player in only one game: A 7-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

A ringing endorsement for the future that is not.

Tie Domi no kid anymore. He knows the finish line is near. He just doesn't see it coming this soon, this week.

When Paul Maurice was hired to coach the Leafs, his friend and ex-teammate Gary Roberts told Domi that "this will be the best thing that ever happened to you."

He told him that assuming there still is a season left to play.

There is no assuming that anymore: Just an interminable wait for an uneasy blue and white answer.


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