Leafs not crying poor

General Manager John Ferguson talks to the media yesterday at the ACC. He says the big-spending...

General Manager John Ferguson talks to the media yesterday at the ACC. He says the big-spending Leafs will adapt once a new collective agreement is in place. (Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

THE OLD, big-ticket players on the Maple Leafs can be worked into a leaner, new-look National Hockey League, says general manager John Ferguson Jr. Grilled about his team's ability to emerge from a projected year-long hiatus with its aging roster and cumbersome $60-million US player payroll, the GM said the club had factored in the lockout before committing more than $10 million next season for Ed Belfour, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk.

"We're prepared to compete and will do so under any economic system that comes down the line," Ferguson said yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "The players we re-signed were significant contributors to our success. At the same time, our current commitments (short-term deals for the three) allow us flexibility (should there be no hockey for a year)."

If the smoke clears in 2005, the Leafs could be working under a collective bargaining agreement that halves their current payroll, though conceivably there would be time for big spenders such as the Leafs and New York Rangers to reorganize budgets. But the aforementioned Leafs, as well as defenceman Brian Leetch, will be a year closer to 40.

"I don't think there will be an impact on our club in that regard," Ferguson said. "I assume our competitors will be a year older, too."

To his credit, Ferguson didn't try to portray the Leafs as a have-not NHL team caught in a CBA doomsday scenario.

"We are a profitable business," he said. "But at the same time, our incremental revenues are outstripped by our incremental payroll on a percentage basis, year to year. (Club president) Richard Peddie has characterized that, in this market, we are running out of runway."

No layoffs are planned in the hockey office, Ferguson said, but pay cuts are likely if the lockout drags into the new year. Ferguson didn't want to talk about letting people go when he just began hirings to beef up the scouting and development staff.

"(Saving jobs) keeps within our philosophy to fortify for the future, to reload," he said.


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