Turning over a new Leaf

MIKE ZEISBERGER and LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

If only the NHL's labour negotiations could go as smoothly as those between the Maple Leafs and Pat Quinn.

With a contract extension pretty much a done deal for the veteran coach, Quinn is all too aware that the face of his team likely will be significantly altered the next time he steps behind the Toronto bench.

"Nothing has happened to indicate it won't get done ... it's being legalized, you could say," Quinn said last night when asked about the status of his impending deal.

While Quinn is expected to return, the same can't be said for some of his players.

When this seemingly endless NHL labour dispute finally does end, the Leafs will be forced to lop off a significant amount from a payroll that soared well in excess of $60 million US in 2003-04.

BIG CONTRACTS

Whatever new world financial order the NHL adopts down the road, the Leafs will be handicapped by the hefty contracts of captain Mats Sundin, winger Owen Nolan and goalie Ed Belfour, players who each carry a salary of at least $6 million for the 2005-06 campaign under terms of the previous collective bargaining agreement.

Will aging leaders like Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk -- who become free agents this summer -- accept significant pay cuts to return to Toronto?

Or will the Leafs have to rely on an influx of young, inexperienced talent to comply with a smaller budget?

These are the types of questions Quinn has been pondering as the ugly war between players and owners drags on.

"We'll have at least three high-end individuals, which means we will have to look at various options to meet whatever system is in place," he said.

"Either the older guys who are free agents accept a lot less or, in order to fit the economic model, you have to look at the young guys."

Almost three years ago, Quinn predicted the NHL was headed toward a collective bargaining stalemate between players and owners. His words proved to be prophetic.

Back in the summer of 2002, Quinn questioned some of the whopping free agent contracts being handed out, specifically referring to five-year, $45 million deals received by Bill Guerin from the Dallas Stars and by Bobby Holik from the New York Rangers.

"There are ways to run a business and that's why there's going to be a lockout," Quinn said at the time.

"Because we're not running the business well."

Those comments landed the Leafs a $100,000 fine from the NHL.

"I wasn't trying to be a prognosticator, I was just trying to establish the facts," Quinn said last night. "The fact that it has come to fruition doesn't make me any happier.

"How these two sides couldn't get it done is quite frankly still unbelievable to me. I can't understand it. All the work done by us and the players to tell the world what a great game we have, and now it's all gone."


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