A day after Mikael Tellqvist's agent warned there was "plenty of interest" from other teams should the Maple Leafs let the goalie get away, Toronto general manager John Ferguson said the Swede will be back here next season.
"We plan to exercise the option," Ferguson said yesterday of a $589,000 US contract the Swedish goaltender would receive next season. "Mikael has established himself as a National Hockey League goaltender. That's not puffery on his agent's part and we're not surprised he (Larry Kelly) feels that way."
The GM's sentiment is good news for Tellqvist, who wants to atone for back-to-back losses in Montreal in March that crippled club playoff hopes and gave Jean-Sebastien Aubin the chance to finish as No. 1 and earn a $525,000 one-way deal.
But it's more bad tidings for Ed Belfour, unless Ferguson wants to pick up him and his wonky back on a $4.52-million option, versus a $1.5-million buyout.
When speaking yesterday of team goaltending plans in 2006-07, Ferguson didn't even mention Belfour, but said a free agent would be sought this summer as further insurance, if not to be the No. 1.
"We didn't make the playoffs, we need to be better, so we're going to pursue all avenues," Ferguson said.
The problem is that this isn't shaping up as a strong summer for free-agent goalies. Cristobal Huet is likely to return to the Montreal Canadiens, likewise Dwayne Roloson to Edmonton. Dominik Hasek is fragile, Curtis Joseph burned a lot of bridges here and the rest of the unrestricteds -- Martin Gerber, John Grahame and Manny Legace -- had shaky playoffs.
All signs still point to Paul Maurice being named Leafs coach in the coming days.
"I would hope to hire someone before the end of the month, but I'm not tied to any day or week," Ferguson said.
If the Leafs are looking elsewhere, former Los Angeles Kings coach turned TSN analyst Andy Murray said yesterday he is interested, but would wait for the Leafs to make the first move. Fired Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford has said much the same thing.
Ferguson seems interested in re-signing defenceman Luke Richardson who helped the Leafs' late-season surge.
With Aki Berg gone, and possibly Bryan McCabe, at least one more veteran will be required to balance their crop of youngsters.
"He did a very good job," Ferguson said of Richardson, 37. "He has defensive capability, a strong backbone and leadership qualities."
Ferguson also is getting optimistic health reports from the Czech Republic on Karel Pilar, who had suffered from viral myopathy, a heart virus.