Quinn a fan of Mogilny

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

KELOWNA, B.C. -- The Maple Leafs have only enjoyed limited success in recent years, but one of the players who gave fans the hope of more was Alexander Mogilny.

Ken Hitchcock, the coach of the Philadelphia Flyers, had no hesitation in saying that during his team's first-round, seven-game victory over the Leafs in 2003, Mogilny was the Toronto player who scared him the most.

Without Mogilny in the lineup in 2004, the Leafs again were eliminated by the Flyers, this time in six games.

Now, Mogilny has been snapped up by the New Jersey Devils as a free agent.

"Good for him," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said yesterday. "He wasn't sure if he could play. He tried to play hurt for us (the previous season) and often gave us some really good times.

"I was happy to be associated with Alex Mogilny and wish him all the best. He's an outstanding player and he's a wonderful fellow, too."

Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. showed no interest in getting Mogilny back, and from all reports Mogilny was ambivalent about returning to the Leafs. While he enjoyed many aspects of the organization, he had nothing but disdain for some of his Toronto teammates.

He had to undergo two hip operations, and after the second he told his friends that he had no intention of playing professional hockey again.

He wanted to get his hip back in order so that he could pursue his passion for golf, but his desire to play hockey had gone. He put on weight and let himself get out of condition.

But in the post-operation rehabilitation, he started to feel good again. His spirits lifted and he went back onto the ice, first in Europe, then in Los Angeles with some other National Hockey League players, including Mario Lemieux.

The word got out that Mogilny clearly was capable of playing at the NHL level and as a result, some teams started to make overtures.

The Washington Capitals were in the running for a while, but eventually, the battle came down to two teams: The Devils and Florida Panthers.

Florida GM Mike Keenan wanted Mogilny badly. With Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, two of Mogilny's friends already signed, Mogilny would have been an excellent addition.

As a result, he kept matching the Devils' offers and pushing up the price. Finally, when the Devils went to $7 million over two years, the Panthers pulled out.

When he heard how much Devils GM Lou Lamoriello had coughed up, goaltender Martin Brodeur -- about to become Mogilny's teammate again -- laughed.

"Lou wouldn't give him that after we won the Cup," he said with a chuckle. "Now we have a new system, he gives him that."

Quinn said the Leafs didn't get involved in the bidding for the obvious reason: "We didn't have any money left."

But he thinks it's a good move for the Devils.

"It's probably a little bit of a gamble, " he said, "but I think his patience and the fact that he went overseas and worked out and discovered in his own mind that his hip is better than it has been in two or three years, and that he can make the kind of contribution he has made for a while in this league were all considerations.

"Obviously, he knows the people in Jersey so it looks like a good fit for them.

"Without a doubt, as a coach I loved him." Quinn said. "I've had him for a while and to me, he's one of the most talented guys I've had. We just didn't have the room to make that move.

"He's the kind of guy who brings levels up from other people. When you're around guys who a have a high level, they bring you along. He was the kind of guy we could put anywhere. We could have put him on defence."

Now that opportunity goes to the Devils.


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