Do the Leafs have the guts?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

John Ferguson would be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it.

Thought about the intriguing possibility of signing junior sensation Sidney Crosby in this season the National Hockey League forgot.

Thought about it for more than a second.

"There is an element of fantasy to it," Ferguson, the Maple Leafs' general manager, said yesterday. "This is getting into speculation on top of speculation on top of speculation, which is typically an area I don't delve into."

But the fascination begins and with it comes so many more questions: Would Ferguson do it? Could he do it? Would Crosby consider it? Would the courts or the NHL allow it?

"There is no precedent for this," Ferguson said. "I don't know if anyone fully understands what may or may not transpire."

When asked if he would ever consider signing an undrafted junior and taking on the hockey establishment in the process, Ferguson paused and then said: "I have not been one to shy away from taking a position that I believe in ... Having said that, we're not allowed to sign players (right now). We can't register contracts. We can't even negotiate (without a collective bargaining agreement)."

The International Management Group, which represents Sidney Crosby, is not waiting around to see what the NHL is doing. A battery of IMG's lawyers have already investigated his options should the NHL remain locked out, should its entry draft be cancelled in June.

"Our lawyers have come up with all kinds of scenarios," said Pat Brisson, Crosby's agent. "A lot of possibilities have arisen and we have a lot of internal options floating around that I can't talk about."

When asked what he would do if Ferguson or any other NHL general manager came calling with an offer now, Brisson said enthusiastically:"We would listen.

"The draft, in essence, is illegal. Why should (Crosby) accept going to Chicago as opposed to Nashville? That changes his entire life. If we chose to challenge it, who knows what would happen?"

Curt Flood took on the baseball establishment in the 1960s and free agency in professional sport was born. Is Crosby looking to take a similar stance on the NHL draft?

"It's not about making a point to challenge the system," Brisson said. "But he doesn't want to be taken advantage of."

In 1979, Glen Sather pulled a fast one on the rest of the NHL. He avidly told existing owners that the Edmonton World Hockey Association franchise would not join the league unless it allowed Wayne Gretzky, who had not been eligible for the draft, to remain in Edmonton.

The owners, as has been their custom, capitulated. Gretzky went to Edmonton. The Colorado Rockies, who should have been allowed to draft Gretzky, went to New Jersey. The rest is history.

"The world is a product of historical accident," NHL vice-president Bill Daly said. "But I don't believe there is a viable legal theory upon which Mr. Crosby could compel any NHL club to act in derogation of their rights."

Someone probably said the same thing once about Curt Flood or a teenage Wayne Gretzky turning pro. Both the law and sport are forever about challenges.

If you were John Ferguson, would you do it, would you consider it? Would you take on the hockey world and the courts for one shot at this super kid with 61 points in 28 games?

Tempting, isn't it?


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