Leafs plug up blue-line holes

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

Pavel Kubina had offers from seven or eight NHL clubs, but mentioned the Maple Leafs were the first to step up to the plate.

And after trying unsuccessfully to convince his former club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, that he would take less than what the Leafs were offering to remain in Florida, there was no way he could refuse the advances of Leafs general manager John Ferguson.

Though projections had Kubina receiving in the range of $2.5-$4 million US a season, the 29-year-old hit paydirt by signing a four-year, $20-million pact with Toronto as the doors to free agency opened yesterday at noon.

"I've always liked Toronto and I know the priority of the Canadian people,"Kubina said. "Any time we played Toronto, it was special."

Ferguson filled two holes on the blue line with two huge men. Not long after signing the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kubina, who was the Leafs' top target, Ferguson signed Hal Gill to a three-year deal worth $6.3 million. Gill, whose speed has been -- and will be -- an issue, is 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds.

Kubina made $2.584 million last season; Gill, formerly of the Boston Bruins $1.6.

"We have shored up our back line," Ferguson said. "Kubina is a strong two-way defenceman and Gill is a solid defensive defenceman, very durable. They augment the top two (Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle) really well."

Though the Leafs would have liked to get their hands on Zdeno Chara, he was too expensive. As it is, the Leafs spent less on two defencemen than what Chara will earn in an average year with the Bruins.

Ferguson, who has about $7-$9 million left to spend, wants to add another forward before he puts away his wallet. Some money is earmarked toward the club's restricted free agents -- such as Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood and Andrew Raycroft -- and Ferguson will give himself a cushion of a few million dollars under the cap of $44 million should he need to make trades at the deadline next year.

TRIED FOR CULLEN

The Leafs took a run at Matt Cullen, who departed the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes to sign with the New York Rangers.

Re-acquiring 40-year-old winger Gary Roberts remains a possibility.

"If we can sprinkle something in, we will," he said. "We're taking a look around. We like the players we have, and we have some guys who are trending upward."

Kubina, who could switch to No. 33 after wearing No. 13 in Tampa (Leafs captain Mats Sundin wears it here), had career highs last season with 33 assists and 38 points. But he scored just five goals, including four on power plays. That was a major drop from the 17 he scored in the 2003-04 season.

Known as a prankster in the dressing room, Kubina already has shown some resilience, as he participated in a conference call last night at 1:15 a.m., local time in the Czech Republic.

"Five goals is not enough,"said Kubina, a friend of Kaberle. "It was an average season for me and Istruggled offensively. I can do better than that for sure. Ten goals at least is something I should get every year."


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