Turning over a new Leafs

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

Have Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk played their last games for the Maple Leafs?

It is like a lot of hockey questions. It has no real answer.

Every day, John Ferguson Jr. goes to work and every day he deals with his projections and his roster planning, having no idea what the new landscape of the National Hockey League will bring.

Last summer, when he was hired by the Leafs, he became the GM of someone else's team. Now, working his way through the great unknown, he's about to build his own team, and one way or another, his own reputation.

Ferguson has eight players of consequence under contract should hockey, as we know it, return next season. That's a commitment of $27 million US, assuming the 24% rollback in salaries. But missing from that list are many who contributed most to Maple Leafs success in recent seasons.

CORE PLAYERS

Mogilny, one of the fortunate few who was paid for not playing this season, will see his contract expire at the end of June. The same is true for Roberts, Nieuwendyk, Brian Leetch and Tie Domi, all of them core players on an upper-level team.

But what now for them?

"We have to make a determination of who we want and how much we choose to commit to any player," said Ferguson, which is his best way of saying he doesn't know if any of them will return or if he necessarily wants them.

"There's a host of possibilities out there. And what we were asking for at our meetings last week was some kind of guidelines. Will there be a rights period for free agents where we can extract value from our assets? What are the rules we're going to be working under? We were given some ideas, but did we get concrete answers? No.

"And we won't have them until some kind of deal is made."

Mogilny is 36 years old and coming off an eight-goal season. His upside is his breathtaking skill; his downside is not only age and health, but there are those inside the Maple Leafs dressing room who believe he bailed on the team last spring.

Roberts turns 39 next month. His upside is what he brings to a team in tenacity and leadership and he did manage 28 goals. If coach Pat Quinn makes the call, don't expect Roberts back. If Roberts returns, it likely will be a Ferguson decision.

Nieuwendyk will be 39 before next season. He is coming off an excellent season and an excellent playoffs. He also missed 18 regular-season games and four playoff games because of injury. The thinking has been that Roberts and Nieuwendyk are a package deal, but the Leafs might have more interest in Nieuwendyk than they do in close friend Roberts.

Leetch, who was acquired in a deal that may end up hurting the Leafs, played well in his 15 regular-season and 13 playoff games. But he would turn 38 next season and has indicated to some people he would rather return to New York than play again in Toronto.

Ferguson won't talk about any of the individual cases for obvious reasons and can't negotiate anything even if he wanted to.

"Everything is unprecedented," said Ferguson, who inherited a contender a year and a half ago and now must privately renovate his roster. "It's a new playing field and we don't even know what the playing field is.

"All I know, and I say this with confidence, I don't believe there is a more desirable place for a player to be. This is arguably hockey's biggest stage."

He may need that sales pitch to rebuild the Leafs into contenders again. But he doesn't know. Nobody does.

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NUMBERS GAME

Status of players under contract to the Leafs and those who are free agents:

- Maple Leafs 2005-06

Mats Sundin $6.8 mil

Owen Nolan $5.6 mil

Ed Belfour $4.56 mil

Bryan McCabe $3.45 mil

Tomas Kaberle $2.2 mil

Ken Klee $1.9 mil

Darcy Tucker $1.59 mil

Matt Stajan $805,000

- Group 2 free agents

Nik Antropov

Chad Kilger

Alexei Ponikarovsky

Aki Berg

Wade Belak

- Unrestricted free agents

Alexander Mogilny

Gary Roberts

Joe Nieuwendyk

Brian Leetch

Tie Domi

Trevor Kidd

Bryan Marchment

Ron Francis

All figures in US dollars and include 24% salary rollback


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