Tie Domi might have thrown his last punch for the Maple Leafs.
Late last night, frustrated agent Pat Morris said contract talks with general manager John Ferguson were stalled approaching today's noon deadline for all National Hockey League unrestricted free agents to go on the block.
"I would think Tie would get to test the open market, though that's not his decision," Morris said. "There's nothing stopping him from leaving."
Rumours heated up last week that Domi would be lured away by friend Mario Lemieux to be Sidney Crosby's bodyguard in Pittsburgh after 10 years in Toronto.
He was to make $1.9 million US last year, but with the 24% rollback and the Leafs' tight salary cap situation, he's obviously not liking the Leafs' offer.
Morris wasn't ruling out a deal by this morning, but he certainly painted a more grim picture than Rick Curran, who represents fellow free agents Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk.
Ferguson's party line in these remaining days when teams can negotiate exclusively with their own free agents is simply "talks are ongoing."
"John and I are both trying," said Curran, who insists he's not dragging his feet to see what today's big ticket shopping binge brings in terms of interest.
"I wouldn't characterize (the bargaining strategy) like that," Curran said. "But eventually you run out of time and he becomes a free agent."
But the Florida Panthers, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Ottawa Senators are believed to covet Roberts. There was speculation that Saturday's acquisition of Roberts' pal, right winger Jeff O'Neill, would influence his decision to come back for less cash.
"Everyone knows Gary's friendship with Jeff," Curran said. "It's a nice story, but it has not had a major impact (on talks)."
Given Domi's situation, perhaps it was wise of Ferguson to qualify rugged Wade Belak yesterday, one of six restricted free agent Leafs who can now come back as cheap labour. Defencemen Aki Berg, Karel Pilar and forwards Nik Antropov and Nathan Perrott joined Belak, while Ferguson went as far to both qualify and sign Chad Kilger to a new deal for 2005-06. It brings the roster to 14 players, some semblance of a team in this post-lockout NHL. Belak will make just over $800,000.
"It was pretty stressful around our house until the qualifying offer arrived today," said Belak. "But I can't see Tie going anywhere."
By retaining the rights of the six, Ferguson can talk contract with them until Aug. 15. If they haven't signed for the qualifying offers or close to it by then, they go to salary arbitration. Berg and Antropov were at just over $1 million US. Perrott, who made $376,200 last year would be bumped to at least the new NHL minimum salary of $450,000.
Ferguson and other GMs aren't expecting a flurry of big-name signings at 12:01 p.m, rather a wait for one marquee player to sign and set the bar. More than 200 unrestricteds should be available. Toronto-area residents Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar are two defencemen willing to come here.
No player can make more than $7.8 million, but some GMs aren't going that high anyway, given the strong chance that NHL revenues will fall below $1.7 billion due to the lockout and drop the cap to around $35 million in 2006-07.