Reality hits hard for Leafs

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

John Ferguson had plenty of reason to be upbeat after conversing with several of the Maple Leafs players the past few days. "They were (optimistic)," the Leafs general manager said last night. "And so was I."

So much so, in fact, that Ferguson cancelled plans to attend the St. John's Maple Leafs' game in Rochester yesterday and went to his office at the Air Canada Centre instead.

Maybe, just maybe, he had reason to begin preparations to get his Leafs ready for a shortened 2004-05 NHL season.

Maybe the inclusion of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux into the last-ditch negotiations in New York would bring some sanity to all of this labour chaos.

But any anticipation he may have harboured about a possible agreement being reached in the ugly NHL lockout was scuttled yesterday afternoon when the owners and players broke off talks in yet another so-called "final" effort to save the campaign.

"I was (hopeful)," Ferguson said. "Absolutely."

Ferguson praised the efforts of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., chairman Larry Tanenbaum, who had been working behind the scenes to help the two sides come to a resolution.

Tanenbaum reportedly hosted a get-together last month with Lemieux, the player/owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Leafs winger Tie Domi, NHLPA president Trevor Linden and NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly.

The meeting, which apparently was held at Tanenbaum's Toronto home, supposedly hatched the concept of a market system within a hard cap of $50 million US, according to sportsnet.ca.

Tanenbaum's frustration at the cancellation of the season last Wednesday was evident in a full page ad that ran in Toronto newspapers yesterday.

"It is our duty to protect the interests of our franchise, and the interests of our fans," Tanenbaum said in a letter entitled A Message to Our Fans.

"Your unwavering loyalty is just one of the reasons why you are the best fans in the NHL. We do not take that for granted and will continue to work hard towards ... a resolution," Tanenbaum added as part of the ad which ran on Page S11 of the Saturday Sun.

"I was aware we were reaching out to the fans," Ferguson said. "From (Larry's) standpoint, it comes from the heart. He has worked hard to try to make the right deal happen."


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