GM unfazed by ex-factor

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

In the unpredictable new National Hockey League, the man you dump today can easily come back and haunt your attic tomorrow.

With 400 free agents floating around, joined by those who will be bought out this week, discarded players could end up as conference or even division rivals on the same day. There are already whispers of the Ottawa Senators pitching for long-time nemesis Gary Roberts of the Maple Leafs, or teammate Tie Domi getting plucked by buddy Mario Lemieux and former Leafs and Jets teammate Ed Olczyk to ride shotgun for Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.

But Leafs' general manager John Ferguson, dealing with buyout possibilities this week as well as choosing which free agents he'll keep, can't worry about where the chips will fall if he cuts some favourites loose.

"That's nothing we have control over," he said yesterday. "It could be (that a Leaf returns in another sweater bent on revenge), but that's not something we can consider when deciding on players."

When the free-agent season opens next Monday, it likely will be a feeding frenzy, yet some big names might be sitting awhile as clubs see how their initial rosters fare. But it's expected all teams will have to decide on their final rosters by the NHL trade deadline, which has been moved up to around March 1.

"I won't attempt to predict how other teams will conduct themselves with free agents -- only that it will be unique and unprecedented," Ferguson said.

A BUSY GM

One of the busiest GMs on the circuit during the weekend was the Tampa Bay Lightning's Jay Feaster. He personally met with three representatives of free agents on Saturday in New York and spoke to a fourth on the phone. Breakfast was spent with Lewis Gross (forward Martin St. Louis), brunch with George Bazos (defenceman Dan Boyle) and early afternoon with Jay Grossman (goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin). Feaster was also in contact with Ken Hughes (forward Vincent Lecavalier).

The Florida Panthers, stung in the draft lottery and dropped to 29th overall, have quickly turned their attention to a new contract for star goaltender Roberto Luongo. They are worried about him becoming a free agent in a couple of years.


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