Domi set to walk away from Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Shut out of free agent shopping the past two days, the Maple Leafs are on the verge of losing Tie Domi.

While neither Toronto general manager John Ferguson or Domi's agent, Pat Morris, would comment last night, the silence was indication Domi will take one of 11 offers he's received since talks with his hometown team went south on the weekend.

The 35-year-old Domi, Toronto's career penalty-minute leader, is getting disillusioned with not getting a two-year offer from the club that drafted him in 1988. Length of term was the same sticking point that drove fellow free agents Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk to the Florida Panthers on Monday.

Ferguson went from the high of the Jeff O'Neill trade on Saturday to free agent disappointment.

A slew of defencemen that Toronto had been ogling all passed by, led by Adam Foote to the small market Columbus Blue Jackets. Then the Philadelphia Flyers loaded up with Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, which Flyers' TV analyst Keith Jones said was done to match the Ottawa Senators --not the Leafs -- in a possible spring conference showdown.

The Leafs either are going after smaller fish such as forwards Jason Allison, Dave Scatchard and Eric Lindros, or waiting until the buyers' market yields something they can afford. But even Scatchard eluded them, joining the Boston Bruins last night for four years at $8.4 million US.

Brief Leaf defenceman Brian Leetch is expected to go, likely to Boston this week, though he had wanted to sign close to home with a New England-area club.

But other top NHL defencemen have flown off of the shelves in the past 24 hours, beginning with Foote and ending with Alexei Zhitnik heading to the New York Islanders last night. In between, Hatcher, Rathje and Adrian Aucoin (Chicago) signed big deals. The Leafs, with only about $10-11 million US of cap room, were unable to match or better any of those generous multi-year offers.

Scott Niedermayer, arguably the best catch among defencemen, is unlikely to consider the Leafs and is looking closely at all three Western Canadian teams. Brian Rafalski is available, but might be too valuable to the Devils if Niedermayer leaves. Sergei Gonchar is shaping up as too expensive as well.

Ferguson put himself in this cap bind by not buying out Bryan McCabe at $3.45 million, Tomas Kaberle ($2.28 million) or Ken Klee ($1.9 million) and then qualifying Aki Berg and Karel Pilar.

Allison has been shopping himself aggressively to the Leafs, trying to erase the doubt in all teams' minds after a neck injury forced him out of the league after 26 games with the Los Angeles Kings in the 2002-03 season. His long absence provides a contractual loophole for the Leafs, who can offer the 30-year-old North York native a bare bones contract and fatten it with incentives that would not count against the cap.

An offer from the Leafs would depend on him passing a physical, which could occur this week.

If bargains are what Ferguson wants, then this might be the year the Leafs finally get Lindros, who had 32 points in 39 games in his latest injury-shortened season.


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