Salary crunch kept Sens from Peca

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

TORONTO -- Former 67's captain Michael Peca never had a chance to consider a possible return to the nation's capital.

That's because the Senators didn't even pick up the phone to make an offer to the unrestricted free agent centre, who helped the Edmonton Oilers reach the Stanley Cup final last season.

"To my knowledge Ottawa never called. No, they didn't," Peca told the Sun following yesterday's morning skate.

Instead, the 32-year-old Toronto native signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal with the arch-rival Maple Leafs and made his debut last night against the Senators.

While Peca might have been the perfect veteran addition for Ottawa, it's believed the Senators had to watch their pennies after signing goalie Martin Gerber ($3.7 million) and defenceman Joe Corvo ($2.625 million).

GM John Muckler also had to worry about signing several of the club's restricted free agents -- including Peter Schaefer, Chris Neil and Antoine Vermette.

But Peca has no regrets about signing with his home-town Leafs.

"I watched these guys as a kid growing up," said Peca, a solid performer in the playoffs with six goals and five assists in 24 playoff games with the Oilers last spring.

"It's exciting for me to be a part of it."

WATCHING A HERO: Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson had a short chat with former Leafs great Borje Salming in the lobby of the club's downtown hotel Tuesday night. "He's a legend in Sweden ... that's for sure," said Alfredsson. Salming was honoured before last night's season opener along with Leonard "Red" Kelly and the late Clarence "Hap" Day. Since the Leafs have stopped the tradition of retiring numbers, Salming (No. 21), Kelly (No. 4) and Day (No. 4) all had banners raised to the roof instead. Salming, who played 16 seasons with the Leafs, first joined the club in 1973 and was one of the first European players to ever play in the NHL. That's why players from Sweden look up to him. "He paved the way for a lot of European players and he did a lot if you look at the number of Swedish captains in the league now," said Alfredsson.

"I don't really know him that well, but I know what he means to Swedish hockey."

Alfredsson said he played against Salming in the latter stages of the former Leaf blueliner's career, when he returned to the Swedish Elite League with Stockholm.

AROUND THE BOARDS: Senators C Jason Spezza isn't sure how many friends and family were in the stands to see him play last night, but the Mississauga native had plenty of requests for tickets. How many did he have to buy? "I don't know, but let's put it this way, I'm playing for free tonight," said Spezza with a huge laugh. Playing for free would mean a huge dip in that $4.5 million salary ... G Andrew Raycroft was calm, cool and collected before making his Leafs debut last night. Raycroft was quite happy to get out of Boston, where he had lost his No. 1 job, and didn't seem to mind getting peppered by the Toronto media. "Look, there's not any extra pressure once the puck is dropped," said Raycroft, who was dealt to the Leafs at the June NHL entry draft. "That's for (the media). All we have to worry about is what happens between the boards. There's the same kind of pressure on Dallas and Colorado in the game that they (played last night). There's not any more on us."

THE FINAL WORD: Don't be surprised if Leafs RW Jeff O'Neill is dealt before the end of the season. Management can't be happy with his whining to the media about the way coach Paul Maurice is using him and club officials weren't happy with O'Neill's level of conditioning when he reported to camp ... Spezza said he believes if he can stay healthy, he can have a 100-point season. "It's not about personal goals, but I think I can get 100 points," said Spezza, who had 91 -- and was second in the NHL with 71 assists -- in 68 games last season ... The Senators' payroll sat at $42.8 million when the puck dropped last night. That means Muckler has only $1.2 million in cap space available. Once D Joe Corvo is healthy late this month, a decision will have to be made on what to do with C Alexei Kaigorodov or LW Denis Hamel, who are both still on the Sens roster.


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