SUN Hockey Pool

Eliminator flies south

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

Right up until the minute he signed with the Florida Panthers yesterday, Martin Gelinas was convinced he'd remain a Calgary Flame.

"I didn't get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to sign with the Panthers today,' " chuckled Gelinas while vacationing in Kelowna with his family.

"I said all along Calgary was the place I wanted to end up again -- and, to be honest, I really thought it was going to happen -- but, in the end, Darryl had other priorities and I had to think about my future. I didn't want to play musical chairs and end up with no chairs."

Instead, he'll end up in the NHL's version of a La-Z-Boy in Florida. His two-year deal sends him to the retirement capital of the U.S. where Mike Keenan is assembling the league's virtual old-folks home. And while the 35-year-old playoff hero is happy to solidify employment for $950,000 U.S. a year, he's saddened to leave a city that embraced him like no other.

"Calgary is home to me -- a place I'll live after hockey," said Gelinas, who has several business interests and plenty of friends in Cowtown.

"Ultimately, my kids are pretty happy to go wherever we are.

"It's my wife I feel bad for. We have two kids and she's five months pregnant. She's a trooper and she understands."

She ought to, given the fact this will be Gelinas' sixth city in 17 NHL seasons.

Admittedly unsure where he'd fit in as part of the new NHL, the unrestricted free agent Gelinas planned to ask his agent to call Sutter yesterday morning only to find out "three or four" teams called to inquire about his services.

"Florida put some numbers down we liked and so we made the decision on the spot," said Gelinas, a local folk hero dubbed 'The Eliminator' for scoring the series winner against all three opponents en route to the 2004 Stanley Cup final.

"It was tough decision and I'm still kind of shocked but the quality of life will be good and Florida is going on the right track adding Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk with some young guys."

The word he got from Sutter all along was 'hold tight if you can' while the GM exhausted other possibilities. And while Gelinas had no idea those included Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty, who will be unveiled as Flames today, he knew others were a priority.

"I respect Darryl -- it was hard for him to commit because he had some things brewing and had to wait on some things," said the classy Gelinas, whose most cherished memories from a two-year stint in Calgary will stem from the buzz that surrounded the magical playoff ride in which he played such a big part.

"I just got edgy and made a move.

"Maybe if I waited, it would've worked out in Calgary.

"Who knows. It was the business side and we both had to make decisions."


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