Darcy Tucker is becoming a piece of the furniture at the Air Canada Centre, albeit one that's appreciating in value.
Now 31, coming off a career-high 28-goals and the second-longest serving Maple Leafs forward in games played to Mats Sundin, he enters the final year of his contract hoping to cement a long-term deal.
"I'd like to stay here, but I saw what Bryan McCabe went through with his contract," Tucker said with a smile after the Leafs and Marlies worked out yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "Bryan's contract became water cooler talk in this town for a whole season (before he finally signed this past June for $28.75 million US for five years). I want to avoid that.
"If it's not done when the season starts, that's it, I'll concentrate on hockey and pick it up again at the end of the year."
Carlos Sosa, Tucker's agent, said preliminary talks with general manager John Ferguson were held three weeks ago while the former was here on arbitration business. The winger will stand to make $1.6 million this season, his stipend a victim of the 24% lockout salary rollback in 2004.
"The plan is to play in the city he loves and where his wife is from," Sosa said. "But we also have to look at the realities of the salary cap and what the (free-agent) market might bear. You can understand Darcy wanting to focus on hockey during this season, but we're always willing to listen to what the Leafs have to say."
If Tucker can hit 28 goals in 74 games then 30 to 35 this year is a definite possibility. But Tucker is taking a pragmatic approach to the season, unsure of where he and others are going to fit with new coach Paul Maurice.
"It seemed easy to get 28 the first time, but I've been in the 20 range most of my career and I'm just as happy to get 25 and see myself and the team improve elsewhere. We didn't have that much trouble scoring, but we couldn't seem to keep the puck out. I'd like to see us block a lot more shots this year."
Tucker, who made strides last year controlling his temper and cleaning up his Sideshow Bob image, has seen Ferguson replace Pat Quinn with Maurice and add Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina, Mike Peca and Andrew Raycroft to the club.
"The guy I know most is Kubina from playing with him in Tampa," Tucker said. "He's a character guy and he'll give us a second option on the power play. Bryan was getting tired at the end of the year, playing around 30 minutes some nights.
"Hal's going to help us block more shots and though I don't know Andrew personally, you don't win the Calder Trophy one year and just disappear. We hope he's happy here."
There is talk that Maurice will experiment with a Peca - Tucker pairing at training camp next month.