Eagle flying the coop?

Ed Belfour, playing forward, chats with his goalie son Dayn were on hand at Keith Acton's charity...

Ed Belfour, playing forward, chats with his goalie son Dayn were on hand at Keith Acton's charity game in Stouffville. Belfour is in serious negotiations with European-based clubs on playing this year. (Toronto Sun/Veronica Henri)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

The Eagle could be flying to Europe this week.

Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour said yesterday he is in "serious negotiation" with club teams in Sweden and Russia and expects to have his answer in the next few days.

Many National Hockey Leaguers, rendered unemployed by the 41/2-month lockout, are facing a similar decision this week as the final transfer windows to play overseas close.

Belfour would not reveal the name of the teams involved. He underwent back surgery last year, but has been steadily recovering and working out since the late autumn.

While Sweden is a popular choice for the hundreds of NHLers playing overseas, Belfour's ties to Red Army great and personal mentor Vladislav Tretiak would open a lot of doors in the former Soviet Union.

"I have to play somewhere," Belfour said, after playing forward -- with a full cage mask for protection -- with present and former Leafs as well as general manager John Ferguson in assistant coach Keith Acton's Game of Our Lives II at the Stouffville Arena.

Belfour, who turns 40 this year, insists he is not fearful that age will diminish his skills if the lockout scrubs this season and takes some or all of 2005-06 with it.

"I've stayed in pretty good shape and worked out with a lot of the guys in the Toronto area," he said.

But he realizes a lot of older players' careers are threatened.

Free-agent winger Steve Thomas, 41, who played with Belfour yesterday, will find it hard to find any takers when play resumes.

"A lot of players have a right to be angry at (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman and a lot of fans do, too," Belfour said.

Leafs' Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk were on hand yesterday and said they will not consider Europe if the season is cancelled in the next few days.

"My wife is eight months pregnant and I have a two-year-old and a three-year-old," Nieuwendyk said with a laugh.

"It's not hard to figure out for me I'm not going."


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