With the National Hockey League about to be re-launched -- talks resumed in small groups yesterday in New York -- Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson must take a long-range look at his goaltending.
He retains confidence that 40-year-old Ed Belfour hasn't lost his edge, despite a year off that included back surgery. Last summer, Belfour re-signed for a $2 million US bonus, $6 million for the lockout year and the same for 2005-06. With the coming 24% rollback, he still will make $3.9 million this year.
At the same time, Ferguson has to start looking at a future without the former Vezina Trophy winner. The crop of free agents about to come on the market is bound to include some goalies.
"We are preparing for (Belfour's eventual retirement) and cross that bridge when we come to it," Ferguson said. "But we're very happy with what we have with Ed right now."
Mikael Tellqvist was steady, but not dominating in the American Hockey League in 2004-05. Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 27, is a question mark and high draft picks Todd Ford (74th in 2002)and Justin Pogge (90th in 2004) are still developing.
Meanwhile, there is speculation that former Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph would return if things don't work out with Belfour under the salary cap.
Now a free agent, the 38-year-old Joseph chose the Detroit Red Wings over the Leafs in the summer of 2002 as a better Stanley Cup bet.
EAGLE'S NEST IN NET
Count Dayn Belfour among those hoping Dad stays in the crease a few more years.
The 16-year-old chip-off-the-old-block would like to join Ed in the NHL some day, even though Dayn is two years away from draft age.
"He's got to wait until I make it," Dayn told a Rochester, N.Y., newspaper last week, while attending USA Hockey's Select 16 Festival.
Dayn, who was born in Chicago during Ed's days as a Blackhawk, played for the Provincial Jr. A Streetsville Derbys last year.
Ed had a chuckle when told about his son's wish.
"I might be about 48 years old," he said. "But Gordie (Howe) did it. I guess I could. That would be something."
LEAFS OPEN FIRST?
The Leafs have submitted Oct. 1, 5 and 8 to the NHL as preferred home game dates to start the new season, likely against Montreal or Ottawa. The 1st and 8th are Saturdays, though an earlier start would depend on whether the NHL has to condense the schedule to participate in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
Marlies coach Paul Maurice is coming to Toronto in a few days to officially begin work for the AHL team, starting with a stack of resumes for assistant coaches. Former Leafs captain Rick Vaive is interested ... Bob Hunter, executive vice-president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., says the front-runner for the new Leafs/Raptors' $10 million training facility/practice rink/community centre is the Lakeshore Lions site, in partnership with the Lions Club. But no deal has been finalized.