Easy move for Kubina

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Bryan Colangelo has been busy retooling the Raptors lineup bringing in several big men to give the local basketball team a new look.

Perhaps Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., told its hockey general manager, John Ferguson, Jr., to learn from the sophisticated Raptors boss man. And perhaps JFJ took the advice literally. For, in a matter of hours after the NHL free-agency period erupted, the Leafs had given their blue line a new look as well by signing a couple of basketball-sized defencemen.

After landing former Boston Bruin Hal Gill at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Ferguson signed Tampa Bay Lightning's 6-foot-4, 230-pound Pavel Kubina, who also is known as "Kuby."

The 29-year-old defenceman who played alongside Leafs' Tomas Kaberle on the Czech Olympic team in Turin, was highly enthusiastic about coming to Toronto. At least that is what he told me when I reached him in the Czech Republic by phone.

"I'm looking forward to playing in Toronto," he said. "It is the centre of hockey and the fans are great. I also got to like the city during our trips there from Tampa. And, I'm pleased that I'll be on the same team as my friend Tomas Kaberle."

However, there is no guarantee he will be paired with Kaberle on the Leafs because the Kaberle-Bryan McCabe defensive combo has done a fine job for several years and those two are familiar with each other on the ice.

"Those decisions are up to Paul Maurice," Kubina said of the Leafs' new head coach. "I'll play with whomever I'm assigned. I talked to the coach only once, but I'm sure we'll talk a lot more in training camp, or perhaps even before. The players I talked to spoke highly of his coaching talents."

The offensive-minded rearguard who has played in nearly 600 NHL regular season and playoff games, is cognizant of the fact that sometimes the puck just won't go in, or the opposing goalie is on top of his game. The new NHL style of hockey doesn't bother him, either.

"If you are offensively minded, you'd like to score. It makes you feel good," said Kubina, who has 65 goals and 209 in his seven-year NHL career.

"But, in my opinion, a defenceman's primary job is to protect the defensive zone. I realize you can no longer grab or impede a player in front of your net, but there are ways to keep the area clear."

He was not certain whether to buy a home or a condo in Toronto once he arrives here. With his four-year contract at $20 million US, he can certainly afford either.

"I will talk to Tomas and some other players about it," Kubina said. "The main thing is to make sure that I fit into the team."

Kubina has come a long way since Phil Esposito, then general manager of Tampa Bay, drafted him in the seventh round in 1996. In fact, it was not certain he would make the NHL. Not only did he make it, but two years ago he was even asked to play in the NHL all-star game at Minnesota when Ottawa's Wade Redden had to withdraw with the flu.

Kubina was not prepared for the assignment. He planned to spend the three-day all-star break in the Bahamas, but had to unpack his bathing suit and suntan lotion and, instead, haul out his winter coat for the trip to cold Minnesota.

"It was a big honour to be asked to play in the all-star game, for whatever reason," he said. "My parents, Vaclav and Jutka, who own a transport company in the Czech Republic, were going to visit me in Florida for two weeks. So, when I found out about the honour, I phoned them early in the morning to change their travel plans and fly to Minnesota instead. They made it just in time for the skills competition and the game itself."

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

A former Canadian figure-skating champion -- and one of its best coaches and choreographers -- Ossie Colson, has passed away. He was 90. Colson coached, among others, Barbara Ann Scott, Canada's first Olympic figure-skating gold-medallist,former world champ Don Jackson and Andra Kelly, wife of hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly and a former professional skating queen. His most recent pupil was Patrick Chan, Canadian hope for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver ... Speaking of high hopes, the Canadian cycling world is pulling for 18-year-old Mark Hinnen of Oakville, son of CFTR boss John Hinnen. Young Mark, multiple Canadian junior champion, left for the world championships in Belgium this week and has his eyes set to compete in the Tour de France at some future date.


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