Attention NHL shoppers

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Will the Maple Leafs be poised with chequebook in hand should the NHL lockout be settled soon?

They should be.

Assuming a deal is made -- and that remains a grand assumption -- the free-agent market come July 1 will be unlike any before it.

If you want a defenceman, is there any better than Scott Niedermayer? If you want and offensive blue liner, there will be Sergei Gonchar. Or, if you want to go strictly defence, Adam Foote will be available.

All in a great new marketplace. Almost all with contracts expiring at the end of this fictitious season.

And then there are the available forwards, with choices ranging from Markus Naslund to Mike Modano to Paul Kariya to Glen Murray to Eric Lindros. Not forgetting that the Leafs' own trio of Alexander Mogilny, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk will be available.

The Leafs, with just eight players under contract, are in a position to spend. A sliding salary cap gives them room to make two or three wise but high-end purchases.

Let the speculation begin: The largest garage sale in hockey history -- with some great buys to be found -- soon will be upon us.

THIS AND THAT

Wayne Gretzky would have agreed to coach the Phoenix Coyotes by now if he wasn't still playing footsy with the New York Rangers over an executive position ... Just a thought: Would anything be better for a returning NHL than to have Gretzky running the Rangers and Sidney Crosby playing in the Big Apple? ... Real estate news: Still on the market, Mogilny's Toronto mansion, although the price has dipped. Recently sold: Mats Sundin's home in Forest Hill, although he's not planing on going anywhere ... Other 25-minute-a-game choices among free-agent defencemen: Adrian Aucoin, Sergei Zubov, Alex Zhitnik, Scott Stevens and Brian Leetch ... The Pittsburgh Penguins have just $5,491,000 US in salary commitments for the coming season, which is just a few dollars less than the Leafs will pay Canada's fastest growing sport, Owen Nolan ... There's not a single sure-flight Hall of Fame member in this year's crop of first-time eligible players, but if I had a vote the only names on my ballot would be former Boston Bruins Cam Neely and Rick Middleton, both of whom already have been passed over too many times.

HEAR AND THERE

Every time I hear the Raptors are working out a draft-eligible player, I can't help but think, 'Didn't they do this last year with Rafael Araujo? And they still wound up picking him?' ... Word around is that the Raptors would like to package both their first-round picks and move up to get one of the choice point guards available. Apparently, they figure they're too far back at No. 7 to get the player they really covet ... If Larry Brown really is so smart how come he left LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire on the bench while the U.S. wasn't winning gold at the Olympic Games in Athens? Arguably, they now are the three best players in the NBA ... Nice of Shaquille O'Neal to pay for George Mikan's funeral and kill the Lakers all in the same season ... Yes, that was Popeye Jones, soon to be a former NBA player, buying hockey equipment in Toronto just a few days ago. His kid plays.

SCENE AND HEARD

J.P. Ricciardi doesn't get enough credit for this: His first two first-round choices as Blue Jays general manager, neither of them early, were Russ Adams and Aaron Hill. Hill, for the record, was picked 13th overall and only one player picked before him is doing anything in the big leagues ... I give up, who is Mario Scalzo, Sr.? ... Annika, Danica: Do you see a trend happening here? ... Just in case you didn't know, somebody named Dan Wheldon won the Indianapolis 500 ... Mike Weir was so overwhelmed by his selection into the Sarnia Lambton Sports Hall of Fame that he went out and missed the cut at the Memorial ... For those keeping track, this is the fourth consecutive season that Scott Schoeneweis' earned-run average has escalated: A 6.35 ERA for a middle reliever who doesn't get charged with inherited runners is closing in on the pathetic ... She just sounds like a French Open champion: Justine Henin-Hardenne.

AND ANOTHER THING

Treat any report regarding a new major professional hockey league as nothing more than nonsense. When the buildings in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Philadelphia and Boston, to name a few places, are owned by NHL bigwigs where exactly are these new leagues supposed to play?... Cause and effect: Koren Robinson dropped passes in Seattle, so in turn the Seahawks dropped Robinson ... Carolina lineman Kris Jenkins on Warren Sapp: "I hate him. He talks too much. He doesn't make sense. He's fat. He's sloppy. He acts like he's the best thing since sliced bread. He's ugly, he stinks, his mouth stinks, his breath stinks, and basically his soul stinks." One question: Who is Kris Jenkins? ... And hey, whatever became of Leaping Lanny Poffo?


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