One is a hometown boy who wants simply to get his career on track. The other is a long-time Maple Leaf who just couldn't bear the thought of wearing another club's sweater.
After four days of working the phones but having nothing to show for it, Leafs general manager John Ferguson last night welcomed North York native Jason Allison to the club hours after officially signing Tie Domi.
For a guy who missed the entire 2003-04 season because of injury, Allison made out all right. He signed for one year and $1.5 million US, but there are games-played and performance bonuses that could reach $3 million, which would push Allison's deal to $4.5 million. Domi spurned a three-year, $4.5-million offer from Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins to take a two-year deal worth $2.5 million.
"I am coming back to be the player I was," Allison, 30, said. "I am not coming back to be a average player. Any time someone can't do what they love to do, it is tough on them. It makes you appreciate everything more and it gets you excited to get back at it. I'm ecstatic to be here and ready to go."
Domi, 35, got out of bed on Thursday morning with the intent of signing that day with the Penguins. But a final meeting with Ferguson in the afternoon, along with Ferguson's sweetening of the pot, enticed Domi to stay in Toronto. Ferguson's original offer to Domi, the longest-serving current Leaf after captain Mats Sundin, had been for one year and $850,000.
"I really thought with my heart, not my wallet," Domi said, noting his wife and three kids were ready for a move. "The only difficult thing was I had to call my friend Mario. He just said, '(The Leafs) talked you out of (signing with Pittsburgh), didn't they?' He was right. (But) my heart made me make the decision to stay in the city I love and I don't want to bail on my teammates, my coach and my fans."
Ferguson's next move could be to get another local, Eric Lindros, on board. Ferguson acknowledged talking to Lindros and said a signing "remains to be seen."
Allison was the Canadian Hockey League player of the year with the London Knights in 1993-94 and had his best NHL season in 2000-01 when he recorded 95 points with the Boston Bruins. But when he suffered what he called "a couple of minor whiplash incidents" in the 2002-03 season while with the Los Angeles Kings, he was limited to 26 games. That was followed by the write-off of 2003-04 because of lingering symptoms and then came the lockout, wiping out last season.
If Allison reaches his bonuses, that money would count against the salary cap.
Allison was signed after undergoing a physical with the Leafs. Though he fired his medical staff earlier this summer, Ferguson refused to comment on who examined Allison. If Allison can be the player he once was, the Leafs will have a nice punch at centre with him and Sundin.
"We anticipate he will return to form (on the ice)," Ferguson said. "There is an assumption of risk in any signing and (hockey) is a contact sport. But there is a great upside. We have a motivated player who wants to be here and perform here."