Leafs get early start

LANCE HORNBY and MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

The Maple Leafs awoke to a new-look roster this morning, but the same old playoff predicament.

General manager John Ferguson warmed up for today's 3 p.m., National Hockey League trade deadline last night by re-acquiring Ballard-era defenceman Luke Richardson, then dealing Ken Klee for a young Russian winger, Alexander Suglobov. Seldom-used winger Mariusz Czerkawski was claimed on waivers by the Boston Bruins.

But Toronto fell further off the playoff pace with ninth-place Atlanta beating the New York Rangers to move five points ahead, perhaps an impetus for more moves today, maybe involving goaltender Ed Belfour. Agent Ron Salcer would not say if any talks are under way for a new team to take on Belfour's cumbersome contract. There remains a slight chance the Leafs could land defenceman Brendan Witt of the Washington Capitals, a healthy scratch last night.

Trading for a youngster is rare in the Ferguson/Pat Quinn era, with only Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker in the same age range as the 24-year-old Suglobov when they were brought in. An American Hockey League all-star with 48 points in 51 games, Suglobov scored in his lone NHL game this year.

"There's no question (Suglobov) is an outstanding talent and he'll do very well," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told the Bergen Record. "Whether he didn't get an opportunity or it just didn't work out, we gave up a top prospect (second only to forward Zach Parise)."

Suglobov, who was chosen 56th overall by the Devils in the 2000 draft, is six feet and 200 pounds.

Klee, the Leafs' No. 3 defenceman, departs after two seasons.

Richardson was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets for a conditional draft pick. Just shy of 37 years old, he was a first-round pick of the Leafs in 1987.

Ferguson also signed free agent forward Alex Foster of Bowling Green University, son of ex-NHLer Dwight Foster.

Richardson was in his third year with the Jackets, but was a healthy scratch and turned in his captaincy. A broken jaw on Dec. 21 threatened his 18-year career, but he came back strong after the Olympic break.

"He really wanted a chance to go somewhere, have a playoff run and get a new contract," Jackets' GM Doug MacLean told the Columbus Dispatch. "It's great for Luke and we get an extra pick."

The Jackets get a fifth- rounder this year, improving to a fourth next year if Toronto makes the playoffs. Richardson, at the end of his $2.09-million US salary, was glad to be back on his first NHL team.

"It's almost too familiar for me," Richardson said. "I know Tie Domi (a Peterborough Petes teammate). The only guy that's still around (from the 1980s) is Pappy (equipment man Brian Papineau). I guess since this is my second time around with the Leafs, I'll be twice as dedicated."

He played four seasons here, in some of the worst Ballard years. When Cliff Fletcher became GM, he shipped Richardson to Edmonton with Vince Damphousse in the Grant Fuhr-Glenn Anderson deal.

Richardson is valued for his toughness with almost 2,000 career penalty minutes.

"I didn't want to go anywhere to be a seventh defenceman," he said. "I wanted to go where I could play regularly. I believe I will get that opportunity here."


Photos