Allison is a gamble

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

An open letter to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs:

Well, isn't this a kick in the nards?

You miss a year's hockey and when the game comes back, your team stinks.

The question is no longer will the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, but instead will they make the playoffs.

The future of the club is now in the hands of Jeff O'Neill and soon, Jason Allison.

Allison made $20 million for playing 26 games for the Los Angeles Kings and can play wherever he likes. He's from North York and working for the Leafs makes sense to him and the club is rumored to be ready to sign him.

He is in fact, just the sort of player the Leafs who have less than $10 million (U.S.) to spend on seven players, will take a flyer on.

The Leafs have little cap room. They now operate in a league where the one-tine peons in Columbus (Adam Foote for $13.8) and Atlanta (Bobby Holik for 12.75 million) are signing talent. They have to hope hockey players miss their mother's cooking.

When he twice led the Boston Bruins in scoring, Allison, 30, was a terrific offensive player and the good news is the concussion like symptoms that sidelined him in January 2003 were the results of whiplash, not a concussion.

The bad news is he hasn't played since your kids were born.

Now you know why Larry Tanenbaum wanted to get a deal done last winter.

The Maple Leafs have historically been lousy in developing talent and for this you can pile blame liberally on any porch you like. Tomas Kaberle and perhaps Matt Stajan represent the very finest harvest from the farm system and that isn't much.

But before the posse gets to John Ferguson's house, a thought.

First, the Leafs have retooled their scouting staff. They had more bird dogs in Europe than ever.

Second, calamity is the by-product of risk.

No one complained when Pat Quinn traded Alyn McCauley and Brad Boyes for Nolan. Nor was there any moaning when Ferguson surrendered defenceman Maxim Kondratiev and forward Jarkko Immonen, the club's first-round pick in 2004 and second-round pick in 2005, to get Leetch and a conditional pick.

The Leafs operated aggressively and recklessly over the last few years but they did so with an eye toward a June parade. That's what people expect. That's what they delivered.

Then again, so did the Philadelphia Flyers who with some canny maneuvering were able to add towering rearguards Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje.

Likewise the New York Rangers, who are rumoured to be ready to sign Markus Naslund and Peter Forsberg.

Clearly Ferguson didn't go far enough. Belfour was a huge miss at $5.6 million, considering he's a 40-year-old-goalie with a bad back who will be playing on a non-contending team.

Why the Leafs retained the lumbering Belak at $805,000, the luckless Antropov at $1 million and Kilger at about $800,000 is a mystery to me except for the theory that continuity is important even if the players involved aren't very good.

Relief is now a summer away, when Belfour will be gone and Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla will be shopping for a job.

Sorry about the bad news. My advice: enjoy your summer. It's starting to look like nasty winter.

Sincerely.

Your correspondent.


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