The Bryan Game

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- The heat will be turned up on Bryan McCabe this week.

Will he stay or will he go?

The Maple Leafs need to know because GM John Ferguson Jr. has to decide what direction he's going to take with his club's blue line by July 1.

If McCabe doesn't sign with Toronto, there's a strong possibility the Leafs will try harder to acquire Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger, who has asked Edmonton for a trade because of personal reasons.

The Leafs resolved their question mark in goal by acquiring Andrew Raycroft from the Boston Bruins during the NHL entry draft Saturday at GM Place.

Now, it's the blue line's turn. It's been almost a month since McCabe reportedly agreed to a five-year, $28.5-million (all figures US) contract with the Leafs.

McCabe, though, hasn't signed the deal, with various reports citing personal issues as the reason. One weekend report indicated the star defenceman is having second thoughts about returning to Toronto.

FREE AGENT

Ferguson Jr. wants McCabe to show his hand -- and soon.

"We've got Bryan McCabe as an unrestricted free agent and we're going to continue to deal with him," Ferguson Jr. said following the draft late Saturday night.

Asked if it was time for McCabe to accept the deal or move on, the Leafs boss was coy.

"The deal is not done. He has not been signed. We've been working on this for a long time and nothing has changed in the last couple of weeks," he said.

Ideally, Pronger would like to be moved to "a location south of the border," according to Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe. But the Oilers -- obviously unhappy with the prospect of losing one of the NHL's top rearguards -- will have the final say where he goes.

The Leafs are not alone in their pursuit of Pronger. The Senators, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues also held discussions on the draft floor Saturday.

BLUE LINE A PRIORITY

Ferguson Jr. wouldn't confirm or deny interest in Pronger, but admitted that improving the Leafs' blue line is a priority.

Sportsnet reported yesterday that the Oilers want defenceman Tomas Kaberle and young forward Alex Steen in exchange for Pronger. The report said the Leafs countered with Kaberle and Matt Stajan, an offer which left the Oilers looking elsewhere.

"I can't comment on another club's player, but we're always looking at options to improve our team," said Ferguson Jr.

There have been whispers Ferguson Jr. might consider a deal involving winger Darcy Tucker. Sources say a couple of teams have made inquiries because Tucker will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season.

Acquiring Raycroft from the Bruins was a big relief for Ferguson Jr., and his $1.35-million qualifying offer will give the Leafs options once unrestricted free agency begins July 1.

It would also allow Ferguson Jr. to pick up the $25 million remaining on Pronger's four-year contract.

Raycroft returns from his vacation to France and Italy tomorrow. The goalie, who had health issues last season, will undergo a physical tomorrow in Toronto, where he will also meet with the media.

"He has to have a physical to officially complete the trade," said Ferguson Jr.


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