Fergy defends Leafs' plan of attack

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

The Maple Leafs' clock has been turned back to the summer of 2002, with free agents escaping their grasp, 11th-hour talks to keep Tie Domi and the general manager getting a public flogging for perceived loafing and cheapness.

But John Ferguson defended himself last night after a third day of striking out on the free agent front, hindered by so little room with his salary cap.

"We're making decisions in the best interests of this year, going forward to next," he said when asked about criticism. "We were active on a number of fronts, but some term and compensation issues (prevented signings). There are issues related to the cap that need to be respected."

He has little more than $10 million US to play with and seven players still to add.

"Our goals have not changed," he said.

"We have a top line centre, a goaltender and (experienced) defencemen. We'll be expecting more of of our players under contract (here and the Marlies farm team)."

The Leafs might finally make a move today, if only to end the speculation regarding Domi.

The winger is down to a handful of teams, but as was the case in '02, don't rule out a dramatic last second deal.

He was almost on a plane to Dallas when agreement was reached -- thanks in part to pressure from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.'s hierarchy, which was getting an earful from the media about GM Pat Quinn's reluctance to deal.

Quinn made some moves later that summer and ended up winning 44 games and making the playoffs.

Ferguson refused comment on stories he is going to offer centre Jason Allison a contract pending a medical related to neck problems that sidelined him 21/2 years ago.

It no doubt has pained Ferguson to see division and conference rivals such as the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers stock up so quickly this week, with some of the players the Leafs had coveted.

"Some of the things we're doing are taking some people's breath away I would imagine," Flyers' coach Ken Hitchcock told the Canadian Press.

But some big names remain out there and Ferguson might be poised to collect them at bargain prices.


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