Leafs were in same position other high-payroll teams

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

When Richard Peddie speaks, people listen.

Then they try to read between the lines.

Peddie, the president of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., was in Montreal on the weekend fulfilling his social obligations. When you're in that kind of job, you have to go to funerals.

Speaking with The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger, he first refused to give any hint that he might not fire general manager John Ferguson after the season.

He would say only that Ferguson's status comes under review in May, as does that of coach Pat Quinn. And for that matter, Peddie himself.

There are those who shrug this off, saying that someone in Peddie's position has to make the right noises and offer the usual platitudes when asked about the status of his GM. But do you think that he would give the same answer if asked about the newly hired GM of MLSEL's money-losing basketball team?

Of course not. So clearly, Peddie has latitude. He chose not to use it.

He then went on to say that Ferguson "has had to go from a buying strategy to a building strategy and that takes time."

It also takes a suspension of belief. The teams that were in the same high-payroll boat as the Maple Leafs when the season began -- Detroit, Philadelphia, Dallas etc. -- didn't go from a buying strategy to a building strategy.

They continued to buy to the maximum, as did the Leafs, but the other teams bought wisely.

They maintained their buying strategy but they used their money on a mixture of proven veterans -- not wonky high-risk veterans -- and talented speedy youngsters.

They're still doing it. The Philadelphia Flyers picked up rugged defenceman Denis Gauthier at the trading deadline when the Phoenix Coyotes wouldn't meet his salary demands.

Gauthier is earning $1.3 million US this year and this week, the Flyers signed him to a three-year extension for a total of $6.35 million. The Leafs had that much cap room available.

The other high-income teams will build, as Peddie suggests that the Leafs must, but they'll build from a position of strength -- which they bought.

As for the relationship between Quinn and Ferguson, Peddie said: "I know they chat all the time."

He may have said more, but at that point, the music in the Bell Centre reportedly drowned him out. It was Aerosmith's Dream On.

MELLOW FELLOW

As the speculation concerning the future of MLSEL employees builds, veteran Leafs watchers have noticed that Quinn is more mellow than he ever has been.

He still gets wound up during games, but he is nowhere near as bombastic as he used to be. Even the referees don't hear him scream as much --and he hasn't thrown his gum all season. He is relaxed during his media sessions, even when asked foolish questions. For a coach facing playoff elimination, he is also generally calm during practices.

Quinn is not the type of person to share his personal thoughts with the media, but his friends say that he has moved on to that stage of his life where he is contented. He realizes that he is financially secure and healthier than he might be.

He also has been through these internecine battles before and knows how to handle them. For instance, fans might criticize him for using Alex Suglobov in Thursday's crucial game against the Montreal Canadiens.

But maybe it's a subtle message to the GM and to those who may be evaluating performances in May: "This is the best that could be done at the trading deadline? This is the youth who represents our future? Well, if he is that good, he had better be on Mats Sundin's line, hadn't he?"

It was a message lost on forward Tie Domi.

"I heard it was some kind of 'rolling the dice' or something like that," he said discussing his exclusion from the lineup.

It was exactly that. That was Quinn's phrase.

"The biggest game of the year and we're rolling the dice," Domi said. "Obviously, those kind of (roster shakeups) don't work."

Don't think for a moment those comments will go unnoticed. Quinn justifiably considers himself to be a players' coach, but he doesn't take kindly to having players question his roster decisions.

You could ask Steve Sullivan about that. Such a query -- not even made publicly -- got him placed on waivers.

Quinn doesn't have that power any more, but his views on the matter haven't changed. Don't expect him to be doing Domi any favours in the near future.

POWER BACK

The surging Florida Panthers have scored five power-play goals in their past 18 chances.

That might not sound particularly newsworthy, but it is if you consider that prior to that run, they had staggered through a 2-for-42 stretch.

Captain Olli Jokinen was asked what made the difference and didn't even have to think about it. "Gary Roberts," he said.

The former Leaf returned from his latest injury hiatus and did what he does so well.

"He is around the net," Jokinen said, "and he wins battles in the corners and loose pucks. He is a big part of our power play."

There are plenty of Leafs fans who feel that if Roberts were still here, the team would be in a playoff position. He not only would contribute on the ice, he would stabilize the dressing room.

And if you listen carefully, on a clear day, you can sometimes pick up the hints from the coach that Sundin's production would be considerably higher if Roberts were still creating distractions for him around the net.


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