Finally, Big E's a Leaf

Eric Lindros attends a press conference yesterday at the Air Canada Centre after finally signing a...

Eric Lindros attends a press conference yesterday at the Air Canada Centre after finally signing a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs for $1,550,000. (Toronto Sun/Mark O'Neill)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Eric Lindros let the No. 88 Maple Leafs sweater settle on his broad shoulders, smiled and declared: "It's about time!"

Indeed, the saga that began as a wide-eyed little boy in London, Ont., watching Darryl Sittler on TV, went through three National Hockey League cities and left a trail of headlines, finally arrived where Lindros had always envisioned, the Leafs' dressing room.

He claims to be older and wiser, but all Leafs management needed to know was that he is healthy enough to deliver one year and $1.55 million US worth of some vintage Big E hockey.

PLENTY TO GIVE

"I still have a lot to give," Lindros said. "I have high expectations of myself. I don't know if you can run around and crash and bang quite the way I might have done (before eight concussions and other hurts). You pick your spots. There's nothing wrong with a little contact."

Lindros underwent an MRI on his shoulder this week, while data on his concussion was relayed to the Leafs. John Ferguson, succeeding where four other Leafs general managers had not, felt confident enough to extend an offer to the first Hart Trophy forward in the Leafs lineup since Andy Bathgate in the 1960s.

"There is an aspect of risk any time a player steps on the ice," Ferguson said. "It's no different for him or any other player. He'll be able to look after himself and we know, like any other team, there'll be guys looking out for him."

On at least two occasions, a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to bring him to Toronto collapsed at the last second. Lindros even refused to sign an $8.-million qualifying offer from the Flyers in hopes of forcing a deal to the Leafs. The recent lockout freed him from his obligations to the New York Rangers, but there was still no guarantee the Leafs would risk signing him.

"It got a little depressing, to finally become a free agent and then have no season," Lindros said. "But it's finally done now. It's one year with a chance to (prove he is still a force) and stay for more."

Ferguson factored in the new NHL scorer-friendly rules as part of his decision to take Lindros over a free agent such as Anson Carter.

"Eric will be tough to stop. He always has been," he said.

Ferguson is down to his last few million under the $39-million salary cap, with a few fringe Leafs to be signed at or near the NHL minimum of $450,000.

"We're close to where we can be," Ferguson said. "If you have a guy who is injured for 10 games, you're paying him and his replacement too, and that starts chewing up the dollars. Then you include different players, at least one (Jason Allison) with achievable bonuses."

Lindros has 817 career points in 678 games, including 32 in 39 games of his most recent injury-shortened year. He used to light up the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens and looks forward to channeling that energy on behalf of Pat Quinn's team.

"I talked to Pat a little bit today about where I'd fit in," Lindros said. "It will be trial and error for a little bit."


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