Leafs need to let Domi go

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

You could look all you wanted at Tie Domi and it never really made sense.

The fireplug head was mounted on a body that came out of the box three sizes too small.

The unmistakable swagger somehow jibed with a softhearted touch with kids.

At 5-foot-10, he had no business fighting heavyweights. But he did, with regularity and usually pretty good results.

Every fight was a miracle.

But Tie Domi was a fourth-liner who openly spoke about himself as one of the Leafs leaders, a 20-point a season guy who falsely saw himself as a difference maker. His biggest impact on a series came in 2001, when he elbowed the New Jersey Devils' Scott Niedermayer and changed the course of a playoff the Leafs were on the edge of winning.

His mistake came when he was playing the best hockey of his career. That's the way it was with Tie.

Teams can begin buying out players within 48 hours of the awarding of the Stanley Cup. The Leafs have not made their intentions clear on Domi. They need to tell one of their most memorable players goodbye.

Domi doesn't fight much anymore. After years of fighting super-heavyweights -- his most memorable bout this season was a pounding inflicted by the Senators hulking Brian McGrattan -- he seems to have lost the stomach for it. Or maybe there just isn't anyone to fight anymore.

The goon is gone, probably forever.

Carolina didn't bother carrying a tough guy. Nor did a number of high achievers, the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Detroit Red Wings or San Jose Sharks among them.

What little knuckle work still exists could be soaked up by Wade Belak or Ben Ondrus, who racked up 104 penalty minutes and 12 goals in 53 games with the Marlies.

It wouldn't be smart, but there are other free-agent options, Georges Laraque in Edmonton, Donald Brashear in Philly or Ryan VandenBussche, his knuckles rusting away in Pittsburgh. With a gaping hole in net and wafer thin depth at forward, the last thing Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. should be occupying himself with is replacing Tie Domi, but it's his team.

Ditching Domi of course, is more complicated than replacing an aging tough guy.

Domi's obvious courage and ferocity endeared him to fans. His political instincts have always been top drawer. He is tight with Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum.

Domi's friends have ranged from Teemu Selanne in Winnipeg to Mark Messier in New York. Captain Mats Sundin, still the heartbeat of the franchise, is a supporter.

That's the thing about fighters. They command inordinate gratitude and respect from the game's royalty because, on countless nights in countless rinks, their presence guarantees a safe night at work.

And thousands of sick kids have had a bedside visit from Tie Domi. Domi's philanthropy was quiet and heartfelt.

But the NHL operates with a salary cap, and Domi's $1.2-million US contract is too much for a tired fighter who turns 37 in November.

That Sundin considers him a friend means little. Sundin managed nicely after a succession of friends, from Curtis Joseph to Steve Thomas moved on. His job is to lead, not to decide who to lead.

The Leafs desperately need fresh voices and a turnover at forward. They need John Pohl or Alexander Suglobov or even Jeremy Williams or some combination of the above to infuse youth into a lineup.

They don't need a veteran with ties to the ownership whose presence could fragment the dressing room. And they don't need a seven-minute-a-night leader.

It comes down to this: There never has really been anyone like Tie Domi.

But he still has to go.


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