Erik Westrum will get a shot in Toronto at building on a career season.
The Maple Leafs signed the free-agent centre to a two-year pact that is one-way in the first year and two-way in the second year. Westrum will be paid $450,000 US this season whether he plays for the Leafs or the AHL's Marlies. In the second year, Westrum will get $475,000 in the NHL or $100,000 in the minors.
"You get paid good money to play this game and you have to be responsible," Westrum said. "It's a good chance, and if I do well, I don't have to worry about the two-way next year."
Westrum blossomed with the Houston Aeros of the AHL last season, finishing second in league scoring with 98 points (34 goals and 64 assists) in 71 games. The 6-foot, 204-pound Minneapolis native has 25 NHL games under his belt -- 10 last season with the Minnesota Wild and 15 in 2003-04 with the Phoenix Coyotes -- and has three NHL points.
"(Westrum) plays a solid, gritty two-way game and more recently has demonstrated his ability on offence," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "He will be given an opportunity to compete for an NHL job and otherwise represents solid depth for the organization."
If Westrum is sent to the Marlies, which is probable, he is not subject to re-entry waivers as he comes under the guidelines put forth in an exemption for veteran minor-league players.
Westrum, 26, played at the University of Minnesota from 1997-2001 and earned a finance degree. He is good friends with John Pohl, who recently re-signed with the Leafs, and received a solid recommendation on the city from Pohl.
"He was told (by the Leafs) he would be rewarded for hard work and that's what happened," Westrum said. "That's one reason I was attracted to Toronto. I'm excited."
Ferguson, meanwhile, said the club remains in talks with Michael Peca. Talks with Jason Allison continue, but there is little chance of Eric Lindros returning if he wants to be paid more than $750,000. Despite speculation, Anson Carter does not appear to be on the team's radar.
Defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo has accepted his qualifying offer of $900,940 in advance of tomorrow's deadline and the club is waiting to hear back from Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, Roman Kukumberg and Kris Newbury on their qualifiers. The Leafs' new assistant coaches will be announced soon, possibly as early as today.