Rich Leafs must love this proposal

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Early in the day, not far from the negotiations, John Ferguson was seen eating lunch in the most casual of places, standing up at a downtown food court.

By evening, you couldn't blame the general manager of the Maple Leafs if he was quietly and hopefully celebrating with caviar and champagne.

The collective bargaining offer to end the hockey war yesterday was just that stunning. In the world of the Maple Leafs -- and isn't that the only world that matters around here? -- the deal to end the labour interpretation proposed in detail by the NHL Players' Association was nothing short of astonishing.

It was so breathtaking that it had no cost certainty and no salary cap and the regrettable luxury tax and still the NHL had to be listening.

It was so overwhelming that the sound heard most often amongst existing players yesterday was a gulp.

It was so impressive that once again NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow has commissioner Gary Bettman up against the ropes, considering abandoning principles after getting hit with a punch he never saw coming.

The kind of punch that sends most prize fights to conclusion.

The kind of deal that shocked both sides.

Who would have believed that Goodenow could have convinced his membership to accept a 24% rollback on existing contracts?

And how, now does Bettman convince his owners -- and moreso general managers -- that they can't compete starting at a level 24% below where they ended last season?

The fight amongst owners is about to begin. That you can bet on. There is a deal to be done here: All Bettman has to do is catch his breath, compose himself, and find a way.

That's what the Maple Leafs have to be hoping for. This kind of arrangement is more than they could ever have imagined.

Suddenly, Mats Sundin would be a $6.08 million player, down from $9 million of a year ago or the $8 million he was scheduled to earn this season.

Suddenly, Ed Belfour would go from $8 million a year to $6.08 million; Owen Nolan from $6.5 million to $4.94 million a year; Brian Leetch from $6.4 million to $4.86 million; Alexander Mogilny goes from $5.5 million to $4.18 million.

On five players alone, that amounts to a reduction of $8.3 million in payroll, which on its own is enough to sign two quality free agents in a market flush with them.

Maybe a Glen Murray. Maybe an Alexei Zhitnik. Maybe a Paul Kariya. You get the point.

This is the kind of deal that is enticing yet troubling upon examination. Great for the already making money Leafs. Not so great for teams a year or two from now, who get the one-time reduction and not much after that.

Even now, the frenetic 24% rollback isn't really a 24% rollback (And you know most teams won't reduce ticket prices). The season is almost half lost now. The existing contracts for this season have already been reduced by the number of games missed. With a rather small number of players on two-year and three-year deals, the actual savings play big for a team like the Leafs, not so large for a team like the Washington Capitals, which only has ten players under contract currently.

What's missing here is what the owners truly want -- and that's protection from each other. At least this deal gives them a chance to at least start all over again.

If they can't make it work, they have only themselves to blame.


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