The Eagle fights back

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

As he prepares to go under the knife soon, Ed Belfour fired a few cutting remarks at his detractors yesterday.

Stating he would like to return to the Maple Leafs next season, the veteran goaltender announced he would be undergoing a "major" back operation in the next two weeks.

"It's a herniation of the lumbar spine," the 40-year-old Belfour said of his back woes. "The herniation is so large that there's just no way of getting around it other than surgery."

Speaking publicly for the first time since a shootout loss March 10 against the Islanders, Belfour said he has been aware of the criticism aimed his way during his absence.

Said Belfour: "I'm not one who reads the papers or pays attention to the media but my friends keep me informed of what is being said about me.

"When people are saying 'He left the team' or 'He's mad at the coaching staff because they will use Mikael Tellqvist more,' well, that is very hurtful and not true.

"The reason I haven't been around is because I received injections (the week of March 13-18) then was told I needed bed rest for the following week. That other stuff is just the media making things up."

Belfour, who underwent back surgery in September, 2004, has been in pain for much of the season. The Islanders game merely was the final straw.

"It wasn't anything specifically that happened against New York," he said. "I knew after a few times being run over or collided with (earlier in the season) that it was pretty sore.

"It finally got to the point where I was having trouble just getting out of bed.

"I have complete confidence in the medical staff. And I'm motivated to return now more than ever. There's definitely a great chance that I'll be back. I just can't come back this year."

After a three month rehab, Belfour claims he'll be ready for training camp.

But will it be with the Leafs?

The Leafs hold an option on Belfour's $4.48-million US salary for next season and are unlikely to pick it up, given his 22-22-4 record and 3.29 GAA this season.

Should they decide to cut ties with the Eagle, they must pay him a $1.5-million good-bye.

Ron Salcer, Belfour's agent, confirmed last night there have been no discussions with Leafs general manager JohnFerguson about whether the Eagle fits into Toronto's plans for 2006-07.

"We haven't talked with John about any future plans whatsoever," Belfour said.

"The only thing that we've been talking to John about is my back and what has happened and what we plan on doing here in the near future."

Belfour also rejected a recent report suggesting he might rework his contract in order to be back with the Leafs next season to mentor Mikael Tellqvist.

In any event, Belfour has been a big booster of Tellqvist, who was rocked by the Montreal Canadiens in back-to-back games last week.

"I felt bad for Mikael in Montreal," Belfour said.

"He's a good guy and a good goalie. You guys should take it easy on him."


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