MONTREAL -- Maybe Ed Belfour already knew his time as a Maple Leaf was on the verge of ending.
Maybe the veteran goalie realized that his back no longer could support his NHL career when he met with fellow Leafs goaltender Mikael Tellqvist on Tuesday night.
With the media unaware of his presence in the Maple Leafs dressing room, Belfour approached the young Swede moments after Toronto's 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
He then made a very classy gesture -- and pretty much passed the torch to Tellqvist.
"He said some really good things to me about my game," Tellqvist said yesterday. "It really caused my confidence to soar, especially when he says things like that to you."
It didn't help Tellqvist last night in the Leafs' 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Meanwhile, Belfour's season likely is over -- and maybe his career too.
The Leafs made it official yesterday afternoon, announcing that the future Hall of Famer had been placed on the long-term injury list.
While general manager John Ferguson won't rule out a return this season, he doubts it will happen.
Come the summer, the logical step from here is for the Leafs to cut ties with Belfour by not picking up his club option, paying the $1.5 million US he is owed, and walk away. It just doesn't make sense to pay a full $4.5 million salary for the 2006-07 season to a goalie with a brittle back and a birth certificate which reads April 21, 1965.
"We have time to make a decision on Ed," Ferguson said, adding that Belfour's injury is in the same area "where he had problems a year and a half ago."
But Ron Salcer, Belfour's agent, wants to make it clear to all the naysayers that his client feels there still is some hockey left in him. "The doctors have told him that wouldn't be wise (to return this season), but it is his goal to get back playing again in the future," Salcer told TSN.
"Eddie wants to continue playing (next season). He has a passion for the game. The doctors just don't think he should be playing at this point. He's going to work with the doctors to find out what his options are."
Salcer added that surgery is "a possibility."
Belfour, who underwent back surgery in the fall of 2004, never really got in the groove this season. With a record of 22-22-4 and a lofty 3.29 goals-against average, he never seemed to resemble the guy who led the Leafs to the playoffs in the three previous seasons.
"It's a blow," captain Mats Sundin said of Belfour's situation. "He was the backbone of our team.
"On the other hand, we have confidence in Mikael. He's learned from one of the best in Eddie."