Off to the market?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Three prominent National Hockey League free agents were thrown out of work on the weekend, but it remains to be seen how hard the Maple Leafs will chase them.

With the official shopping day still six weeks away on July 1, there's no telling if Ottawa Senators defencemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara and New Jersey Devils winger Patrick Elias will be retained by their current clubs or gobbled up by those with more salary-cap room than the Leafs.

Toronto general manager John Ferguson has his own roster juggling, such as whether to re-sign potential unrestricted free agent defenceman Bryan McCabe. Talks with agent Jeff Solomon are bearing fruit.

"They're moving in the right direction," McCabe told The Fan 590 yesterday. "The biggest thing is ... having a no-trade clause."

A report in March said McCabe had rejected a four-year, $16.5-million US deal, along the lines of what the Leafs gave blue-line partner Tomas Kaberle. There's also a potential of $3 million to add to a Chara or Redden pursuit if Ferguson cashes in goalie Ed Belfour's last year. The cap should reach around $46 million, up from $39 million.

"We present as desirable a destination in the world (to any free agent)," Ferguson said last night. "We're in hockey's biggest stage, we're sold out on a nightly basis in a beautiful metropolitan city. There is a lot to consider from a family perspective, as well as education, fine dining and a great lifestyle. These are things we will impress upon players and their agents alike."

As the Sens dissected their second-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Redden painted the more bleaker picture about staying in Ottawa than Chara, though observers believe the club will make the stronger pitch to retain the longer-serving Redden.

"We know we haven't got it done and you know the axe is going to fall somewhere when that happens," Redden told Sun Media. "Who knows, maybe they don't want me back."

The 6-foot-9 Chara has been more of a pain to the Leafs than Redden during his four seasons in Ottawa, but Toronto needs more than two studs on its blue line next year -- regardless of where they find them.

Both Sens defencemen caught flak for the club's breakdown against Buffalo, after being party to a total of four failed playoff series against Toronto. But one prominent player agent said a playoff disappearing act won't cause teams to back away from a good unrestricted free agent.

"At the end of the day, you look at the whole picture," the agent said. "Did that player help his team get to the playoffs? No question those two had an impact in Ottawa.

"If the bidding club perceives the playoff showing to be an anomaly -- and one player can't be totally at fault when the whole team doesn't do well -- it won't have a huge impact on the bidding. It comes down to who wants to pay the price to improve their team."

The Leafs also are going to take a look at Elias, who led the playoffs in scoring up to the Devils' elimination by the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. He had 61 regular-season and playoff points in 47 games after coming back from a bout of hepatitis. As the Devils went home, Elias told reporters he's interested in coming back. But frugal GM Lou Lamoriello isn't always successful when playing the loyalty card with his unrestricted free agents.

Another displaced Devils defenceman is Ken Klee, traded by the Leafs for prospect Alexander Suglobov in March. Could he find his way back here?

"It's a possibility," Klee's agent Anton Thun said. "I have not talked to John about it, but Ken certainly enjoyed his (two years) with the Leafs."


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