Happy homes for NHLers

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:29 AM ET

In one week, the NHL's phenomenon of the "hometown discount" managed to up its relevance by a number of notches.

Hometown discounts allow teams like Toronto to bag Mike Peca for less than his predicted worth.

How are they able to do this? Call it the Curse of the Blue Kool-Aid.

The thing is, anyone outside the GTA is discouraged from discussing a player's desire to suit up for the Leafs. To do so opens them up to a barrage of insults, mostly insinuating that the root of their opinion lies in blatant jealousy.

And why wouldn't they be jealous? It's an obvious reaction. How often do other teams experience that kind of desire from players?

Even if they do, it isn't as widely reported as any declaration for the Leafs is.

Peca's boyhood dream was to wear the blue and white. Being born seven years after the Leafs' last Stanley Cup victory probably allowed him to view some of the club's worst hockey in its history, but regardless, that's where his devotion lies.

And thus, John Ferguson Jr. was allowed some leeway on a player that he likely couldn't afford otherwise. He had an ace up his sleeve that few teams can pull.

A number of clubs can make the claim that they're a potential Stanley Cup contender. It doesn't mean they're going to win. But a desire from childhood is concrete.

Going to the team you loved as a kid fulfils a certain wish. And winning a Cup with that club would just be one heck of a bonus.

Are the Maple Leafs a Cup contender? After last season's unexpected plot twists, who knows what could happen?

The Leafs certainly weren't championship material when they acquired Eric Lindros in August 2005.

Lindros had been the poster boy of the "I wanna be a Leaf" movement for some time. It always seemed like the Big E would suit up in Toronto gear eventually.

Lindros seemed to be on the road to a renaissance of sorts at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, his Toronto dreams became a nightmare when a wrist injury caused him to miss the majority of the season.

So when the opportunity arose for Lindros to re-sign with Toronto, he thought otherwise and bolted to Dallas. The 33-year-old signed with the Stars for $1.55 million (all terms US), plus incentives that could add up to $2.5 million in total.

Lindros claimed the move to Texas wasn't a financial decision. Toronto was rumoured to have offered a one-year deal, at $750,000. Are we left to assume that after only 33 games, Lindros' childhood fantasy of playing for Toronto was sated?

It's all very curious.

We've witnessed this phenomenon for some time, but with the salary cap now holding precedence over a club's every move, it's going to become more relevant.

Sometimes, the desire isn't even related to a hometown -- just a favourite team. Have you ever noticed the euphoric expression on Sidney Crosby's face whenever the Montreal Canadiens are mentioned? If I'm Penguins GM Ray Shero, I'm doing everything possible to promote Pittsburgh to the young phenom for the next six years.

It may be the Leafs; it may be someone else. The fact remains that if a team invokes a player's emotional desire and uses it as a persuasive selling point for their club, you have to give them credit. It's a great card to play if you've got it in your back pocket. And in this new-era NHL, you really need to use every trick in the book.

MAN ABOUT TOWN: Bill Belichick has been named as the "other man" in a vicious New Jersey divorce case. The woman in question is a former receptionist for the New York Giants and apparently has known the Patriots coach for some time. Who knew the cutoff sleeved, homeless look was such a turn-on?

THAT SUCKS: A Red Sox fan has begun selling baby bibs online emblazoned with the slogan, "(Johnny) Damon sucks." No word of whether a Shea Hillenbrand version is available.

IT ADS UP: I'm grateful for the British Open this weekend -- it's one of the few PGA tournaments without a sponsor attached to its name. A couple of weeks ago we were treated to the Cialis Western Open, which gives a whole new meaning to "up and down" golf.


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