Just a few minutes after one o'clock, Ed Belfour settled into his seat, flexed his fingers and went to work.
Sixty-two minutes and 400 signatures later, his job was done. At $50 per signature, Belfour's celebrity grossed about $20,000 for the Sportcard and Memorabilia Expo at the International Centre.
According to Al Sinclair, who runs the show, "it's essentially a loss leader. Hopefully you break even. Pretty much what we charge the public is what he charges us."
From that, you can infer that Belfour's appearance fee was about $20,000, which is a considerable discount on his usual hourly-rate of pay, given he's on the first year of a three-year contract to guard the Maple Leaf net that could pay him as much as $20 million, $16 million of it guaranteed.
In addition to a $2 million signing bonus, Belfour's deal with the Leafs is worth $6 million in 2004-05, $6 million in 2005-06 and $6 million in 2006-07, if the Leafs decide to pick up the club option on that final year. If they choose not pass on the option, they must buy him out for $2 million.
At this point in the lockout, Belfour is one of the lucky NHL players because he's being paid. Since he's still recovering from back surgery, he's entitled to his full salary from the Leafs.
Public opinion polls have indicated that the general rabble in Canada is quicker to blame players than they are to blame management in the current labour impasse which begs the question 'Why are they out there paying $50 a pop for a guy's signature?'
Then again, the crowd at a memorabilia show is not your typical sports assemblage. Most of these people are hobbyists, in the game to satisfy their own appetite for collecting.
A few are entrepreneurs trying to turn their signed items into cash on e-bay or some other internet auction site.
"I've been coming to these shows for 10 or 15 years," says Kelly Pfeiffer, of Kitchener, "and it does get under my skin that a guy making $10 million a year (okay, so he rounded it up) is doing out here. I don't mean to jump on Eddie Belfour. I was at a show recently where they wanted $90 for Ray Bourque's autograph. And then on top of that they wanted another 10 bucks for a certificate of authenticity.
"I don't mind paying for some of the old timers, a great gentleman like Jean Beliveau or Gordie Howe or Bobby Hull. With those guys, you don't get just an autograph, you get a conversation. Some of those guys won't let you away from the table."
That said, Pfeiffer swallowed hard and went deep into his pocket to get Belfour's signature for his 12-year-old nephew, Bryce. Likewise, his buddy Steve Kamella shelled out to get a picture signed for his four-year-old son Lukas.
John Smith drove 140 kilometres from his home in the Southern Ontario tobacco town of Delhi for a signature, then, just at the end of the session, slipped back inside the ropes to get a friend to take a photograph of himself and Belfour.
"Most of these people are into this as a hobby," he said. "There's not quite the same emotional attachment of a fan. It's more of a business arrangement. But I am surprised there weren't more people here."
Tim Allen, of Toronto, brought his print of Ken Danby's goalie painting "At The Crease" to the show. He already has it signed by about 20 famous goalies, including Ken Dryden, Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley and, now, Belfour. By the time he's finished, the painting will probably be quite valuable but he's not doing this to make money.
"I love sports history and love documentation. To me, coming to one of these shows is like coming to a museum. I'm a kid in a candy store."
He doesn't begrudge Belfour the pocket change he picks up at shows like this, but he has his line in the sand.
"I hit my limit at paying $150 for Patrick Roy's signature," he said.
"But if I had a sports grudge, it would be against the agents. They're the ones who have ruined the game."
To some, it probably grates that a millionaire hockey player is cashing in like this even while he's part of a labour dispute that is depriving millions of people the game they love. Get over it. Sure it's dopey, both for hockey to be shut down and for a guy's autograph to be worth $50.
But nobody held a gun to the heads of those autograph hounds, any more than they held a gun to the NHL owners' heads to sign all those loopy contracts that got them in this sorry state. It's business. Not good business, just business.