Ferguson says there's lots to like about Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:11 PM ET

With little money to offer the big-name forwards who want to play hockey in Toronto, general manager John Ferguson must come up with some other selling points of the Maple Leafs.

Not easy when the team hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 40 years and missed the playoffs a few months ago. But with four front-line defenceman, a new goaltender and some help coming from the farm, there are some advantages

"It's about them playing in a great city, but also them wanting to be part of a winning team," Ferguson said last night as talks with free agents continue on several fronts.

Ferguson has somewhere between $4 million US and $5 million to spend, in staying a million or two under the $44-million cap. At least one incoming player could be accommodated, such as Mike Peca or Anson Carter, provided they trade some salary for a longer term. A secondary plan is to look at Eric Lindros or Jason Allison off of last year's roster. Peca's agent Don Meehan plans to talk to Ferguson next week.

The Leafs did sign Ben Ondrus yesterday, a truculent winger who could fill some of Tie Domi's role.

"We valued his energy and commitment to a two-way game," Ferguson said. "He has the ability to finish checks, forecheck and kill penalties."

EIGHT IS ENOUGH

The Leafs aren't happy with the way the "new" NHL schedules games, from eight regular-season meetings against Northeast Division teams to the policy of visiting each Western Conference division only once every three years.

Richard Peddie, CEO of MLSEL, said there was talk of change when a winter meeting of team presidents and chief marketing officers showed about half of 30 teams wanted to drop inter-division games to six. But the Leafs were unsuccessful lobbying to have it modified for 2006-07.

The Leafs hope to have a good idea of their '06-07 schedule in seven to 10 days.

THIRD MAN IN

Coach Paul Maurice intends to finalize his choices for assistant coaches next week -- including the newly created third position.

"The details on that job description are still coming together," Maurice said yesterday. "It's going to be related to who the first two assistants are."

BACK TO SCHOOL

Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, will go to the University of Minnesota this fall rather than join the St. Louis Blues.


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