Will Eagle fly coop?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:37 PM ET


 The Maple Leafs are leaving a new deal for goaltender Ed Belfour on the back burner until their playoff fate is decided.

 General manager John Ferguson Jr. remained tight-lipped yesterday about a report that he offered Belfour a guaranteed contract for next season to head off free agency on July 1.

 Whatever the seriousness of the talks, they were shelved when the playoffs began. Ferguson would not comment on whether he would pursue Belfour aggressively before July 1.

 "We have a singular focus throughout the organization on the playoffs," Ferguson said yesterday. "Eddie continues to demonstrate his value to our club."

 At present, Belfour is guaranteed a contract for next season only if the Leafs win the Cup.

 It's believed the Leafs' latest offer to Belfour was for about $6 million US for next season -- the base salary he would have been entitled to under the club option -- along with a $2-million bonus if he wins the Stanley Cup this year. Belfour's existing two-year deal was to be extended if he won five playoff series or the Cup. The first clause died when the Leafs were eliminated in the first playoff round last year.

 The attraction for Belfour taking an offer now would have been a hedge against him having a bad playoff, which could see his market value slip. He would also have a deal in place should the 2004-05 season be shortened by labour problems.

 Though there might be other free-agent goalies available, it's not hard to figure Ferguson wants Belfour back.

 Belfour, who turns 39 next Wednesday, clearly is not slowing down. He posted 10 goose eggs during the season and already has two in the playoffs.

 "For the two years he has been here, he has been terrific," said coach Pat Quinn -- who, as Leafs GM, signed Belfour to a two-year $13.5 million contract in July 2002. "I'll just leave the rest to those who have to deal with it."

 The last thing the Leafs players wanted to hear about was a contract issue.

 "It's something that is not brought up very often in playoffs," said Gary Roberts, whose own contract ends this year. "It's not something any player really wants to talk about. Eddie has been a huge part of this team and everybody would like to see him back."


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