Nieuwendyk wants to stay

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

Joe Nieuwendyk summed up his desire to play for the Maple Leafs next season rather succinctly yesterday.

"I don't feel I played there long enough," Nieuwendyk said from his cottage in Ithaca, N.Y. "My agent (Rick Curran) will be talking to other teams as well, but I would love to be back in blue and white."

Now just two months shy of his 39th birthday, Nieuwendyk signed with the Leafs back in September 2003 with the probable intent of finishing his formidable NHL career close to his hometown of Whitby. Though he has three Stanley Cup rings, Nieuwendyk doesn't see the possibility of earning a fourth in Toronto as a pie-in-the-sky idea.

"After the year off, we're hearing a lot about the team has to be changed and I don't understand that," Nieuwendyk said. "It's a good team that was close to a Cup (and it can be again)."

Though general manager John Ferguson and the other 29 GMs across the league probably won't have the ability to sign free agents prior to Aug. 1, the list of those who wouldn't mind playing here is growing. None other than the NHL's most-recent Norris Trophy winner, Scott Niedermayer, told the Fan 590 yesterday he would not have trouble uprooting his family from New Jersey to play for the Leafs.

Niedermayer, who has spent the past 12 full seasons with the Devils, would have made $7 million US in 2004-05, but given the parameters of a $39-million salary cap mean he probably could be had for $5 million a season. Niedermayer turns 32 on the last day of August and signing a defenceman of his stature would be a coup for Ferguson, who would happily make the addition for the right price.

Others who have been linked to the Leafs in various reports include Glen Murray, Eric Lindros, Teemu Selanne and Jason Allison. Also, if the Carolina Hurricanes don't qualify Jeff O'Neill at $2.8 million and let him walk (which is expected), the Richmond Hill native could wind up in Toronto.

Whether Nieuwendyk, who had 22 goals and 50 points in 64 games for the Leafs in 2003-04, could re-sign for approximately the same amount ($3 million) he would have made in 2004-05 is unlikely. With a salary cap of $39 million, and even with the coming buyouts of players such as Owen Nolan, Ferguson still might have to be fairly selective with free agents.

Though Nieuwendyk didn't want to say whether he would take a cut to remain in Toronto (he did take a pay cut two years ago when he left the Dallas Stars for the Leafs), the year off has given him inspiration to play past the coming season.

"It has been a good time for me to rest up and heal up," Nieuwendyk said. "As long as I am productive, why not play into your 40s?"


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