Leafs in good hands with Quinn

Leaf coach Pat Quinn chomps on his stogie after practice in Carolina yesterday. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

Leaf coach Pat Quinn chomps on his stogie after practice in Carolina yesterday. (SUN/Fred Thornhill)

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:54 AM ET

The sound of Punch Imlach's voice reverberated around the Air Canada Centre yesterday.

It bounced into the coach's office and I could hear El Puncho telling me that you build Stanley Cup championship teams by having strength down the middle. That means with good goaltenders and powerful centres.

What threw me a little was the voice I heard. It wasn't Imlach's, but his disciple's. Indeed, it was Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn who told me in Punch Imlach fashion:

"We have good goaltending (Ed Belfour, Mikael Telqvist and Jean-Sebastien Aubin) and powerful centres in Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros and Jason Allison. It was Imlach who once told me that you build a team with strength down the middle. In training camp, we have to find suitable wingers for them.

"We will be moving people around in camp to find proper positions for the forwards and defencemen. We'll have a good look at Alex Steen and Matt Stajan who can play centre or the wing."

What about the wingers for the three big centres, I asked the amiable Irishman?

"We'll see how (Jeff) O'Neill works out on the wing for Allison," Quinn said. "If it doesn't work with Allison, we'll try him with Mats (Sundin). Two other guys who could play with the big three centres are Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky, both who played on the wing before."

Quinn didn't mention the name of Tie Domi. Perhaps it was oversight on his part, or he has special plans for the Albanian crowd favourite, but wants to keep them secret for the time being.

Then I asked Quinn if he wants to keep his defence pairings secret now that playmaker Brian Leetch is history?

"I think I'll have Tomas Kaberle partnering Bryan McCabe," Quinn said. "With the red line removed, I think those two guys will be able to play with the puck and make surprising passes.

"I also plan to move Wade Belak back on defence, possibly with Karel Pilar if the latter gets a clean bill of health from the doctors. Veteran newcomer Alexander Khavanov may play with Carlo Colaiacovo and Aki Berg may share defensive duties with (Ken) Klee."

I was really interested in Quinn's opinion about the elimination of the red line and his thoughts on whether it would minimize the dreaded trap.

"I don't think the mere fact that there is no red line would eliminate the trap totally," Quinn said. "There will be teams and players backing off and thus causing some sort of a trap.

"I think it will be important for us to study opposing coaches on our scouting trips and then react accordingly. The new rules will offer us a new learning experience."

Overall, Quinn seems to be looking forward with optimism to the team that was assembled by general manager John Ferguson Jr. But when I asked him if he missed the dearly departed Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny, Owen Nolan and Leetch, his facial expression told me the story.

He didn't have to say a word.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

APPROX. CAP ROOM LEFT: $4.0M

- FORWARDS

Mats Sundin 6,840,000

Darcy Tucker 1,596,000

Eric Lindros 1,550,000

Jeff O'Neill 1,500,000

Jason Allison 1,500,000+

Tie Domi 1,250,000

Nik Antropov 1,000,000

Matt Stajan 805,600

Wade Belak 722,000

Chad Kilger 668,800

Clarke Wilm 450,000

Nathan Perrott 450,000*

Alexei Ponikarovsky 450,000*

- DEFENCE

Bryan McCabe 3,458,000

Tomas Kaberle 2,280,000

Ken Klee 1,900,000

Alexander Khavanov 1,250,000

Aki Berg 1,064,000

Carlo Colaiacovo 860,000

Karel Pilar 450,000*

- GOAL

Eddie Belfour 4,560,000

Jean Sebastien Aubin 500,000


Photos