As if there was any mystery to it, a clear and unanimous message was sent to Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson from the players: Re-sign goalie Ed Belfour.
"There are a lot of things up in the air with the labour agreement, but it starts from your net and Ed has been our guy," said defenceman Brian Leetch, who is under contract for next season. "It is important to have him back."
Belfour turned 39 on April 21, but no sane person would argue he is washed up. Belfour, who just finished a two-year, $13.5-million US contract, is slated to become a free agent on July 1. As it turned out, the back problems that Belfour has had in the past did not surface in the playoffs, and he emerged as the Leafs' central figure in the first-round win against the Ottawa Senators.
Belfour could test the free-agent waters, but he indicated he might not. If there is an extended work stoppage that goes for a year or longer, Belfour may have played his final NHL game last night.
"I want to be here," Belfour said. "I hope that things work out."
Belfour was beaten in overtime on a Jeremy Roenick rocket to the top corner that no goaltender could have stopped. Belfour, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, can take solace in the fact he has one Stanley Cup ring, from 1999 when he was with the Dallas Stars. But that meant little to him last night.
"It's very tough," Belfour said. "Guys worked so hard to come back and it was just too bad. Guys were playing hurt and they were in and out of the lineup. It really does show how much character we have in this room."
Said Bryan McCabe: "Eddie is our heart and soul back there and gives us an opportunity to win every night. He has been our MVP for the couple of seasons he has been here."
Wanted: Ed Belfour
TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun
, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET