Leafs' well running low

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

Which will dry up first, John Ferguson's thirst for big-name free agents Eric Lindros and Anson Carter, or the Maple Leafs' salary-cap reservoir?

The ever coy general manager is not shutting the door on a possible big-ticket signing, refusing comment last night on rumours that Lindros and Carter underwent team-supervised physicals this week. A report on TSN last night said the Leafs will offer a contract to Lindros if he passes an MRI.

But Ferguson is moving towards the $39-million US cap in a hurry. In 24 hours, he added former St. Louis Blues defencemen Alexander Khavanov ($1.25 million), and re-signed Aki Berg ($1.06 million) and Wade Belak (two years at around $800,000 per season). The club's remaining restricted free agents, Nik Antropov, Clarke Wilm, Nathan Perrott, Alexei Ponikarovsky and defenceman Karel Pilar, will all come in between $1 million and the NHL minimum of $450,000. None filed for salary arbitration by yesterday's league deadline (Ponikarovsky was not qualified) and have until Monday before those club offers elapse.

Thus, it's hard to ascertain which figures Ferguson is working with right now, but he said it's "much less" than the $7 million or so that rough math indicates is remaining in his budget for three or four more players.

Ferguson might also be leaving himself a million or so as a cushion for the regular season.

Certainly, Lindros becomes less attractive if both his base salary and performance bonuses count against the cap as one published report said. That prevents the wiggle room that Jason Allison's deal provides the club. But Eric's father/agent, Carl said yesterday that he and Ferguson knew from the start that Lindros did not miss enough days in 2003-04 to get the same break as Allison.

"The fact the contract has to be guaranteed has been known for two weeks," the elder Lindros said. "(The report) made it out to be a bump in the road, but it's always been there."

He also took issue with the perception his son is constantly on the shelf with concussions, eight of which have been documented in his career. A shoulder problem also curtailed his playing time with the New York Rangers in 2003-04.

"On average, in the past three years, Eric has missed five games a year with concussions," he said. "That's fewer than Peter Forsberg or Jeremy Roenick. The bulk of Eric's concussions came in one year."

But with that, Carl Lindros joined Ferguson in clamming up about the state of talks. Asked if it's destiny that Eric will realize his 15-year dream of being a Leaf, Carl laughed and said: "It's certainly made for a good story, hasn't it?"

Pat Brisson, agent for Toronto-born right winger Anson Carter, could not be reached for comment last night on his client's talks with the Leafs.

The surprise signing of Khavanov and the return of Belak and Berg yesterday, gives the Leafs six proven defencemen when added with Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee and Tomas Kaberle.

"I like the group we have right now," Ferguson said when asked if he is through fishing for outside help on defence.

Don Meehan, the agent for centre/winger Antropov, will meet with his client this week, then see Ferguson.

"We anticipate going forward with Toronto this year," Meehan said.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

APPROX. CAP ROOM LEFT: $6.7M

* FORWARDS

Mats Sundin 6,840,000

Darcy Tucker 1,596,000

Jeff O'Neill 1,500,000

Jason Allison 1,500,000

Tie Domi 1,250,000

Matt Stajan 805,600

Chad Kilger 668,800

Nik Antropov 1,000,000*

Nathan Perrott 450,000*

Alexei Ponikarovsky 450,000*

* DEFENCE

Bryan McCabe 3,458,000

Tomas Kaberle 2,280,000

Ken Klee 1,900,000

Alex Khavanov 1,250,000

Aki Berg 1,064,000

Wade Belak 800,000

Karel Pilar 450,000*

* GOAL

Eddie Belfour 4,560,000

Mikael Tellqvist 450,000


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