Up next for Ferguson: Sundin, Peca, Tucker

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Now that he has some measure of security for the spring and summer, John Ferguson is sure to be a busy man on the contract front.

The Maple Leafs general manager has three potential free agents to lasso -- leading scorers Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker and centre/dressing room lieutenant Michael Peca.

"That's a priority," Ferguson said yesterday after the Leafs picked up the option on his contract for 2007-08.

In terms of money, Tucker presents the biggest challenge, as he steams toward a two-year total of 50 goals. At $1.596 million US this year, Tucker can expect to at least double his salary here or on the open market in July.

Asked what Ferguson's renewed status meant to talks regarding a multi-year deal. Tucker's agent, Carlos Sosa, said yesterday: "Your guess is as good as mine. I would hope John values what Darcy has brought and will bring to the team. This is up to John and always has been up to him."

Discussions took place in the summer and in late October when Sosa travelled to Toronto from Seattle, but said that little of substance was discussed. If Tucker gets in excess of 100% of his current salary, nothing can be closed until Jan. 1.

The Leafs have an option on Sundin at $5.32 million after he gets his $6.84 million this season. But in order to fit him, Tucker and this year's multi-million dollar pacts for Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe under the salary cap, Ferguson is going to have to be creative. Ferguson yesterday called those four "the tempo of the club," and expressed hope the cap will rise from $43.5 million next summer.

Tucker didn't want to comment on his own contract yesterday, other than to say "it's good to see John get what he deserves. He has done a good job with this team."

Of his new deal, Ferguson said: "This doesn't change in any way how I'm going to operate or continue to operate in the process of achieving those goals and objectives ... qualifying for playoffs and competing for the Stanley Cup."

MATS IN MOTION

Sundin is participating in game-day skates and shooting pucks to test his healing elbow ligament, but coach Paul Maurice ruled out him playing any earlier than Saturday against the Boston Bruins.

"I started shooting a bit with it (Tuesday) and its all right," Sundin said. "I'm not shooting it as hard as I can but its nice to see I don't have any pain or anything while shooting."

Sundin seems to be on the same page as Maurice in terms of a return date.

"It's out of my hands.I'll leave it up to the coaching staff and the doctors to decide. I'm still looking at the weekend. (Tomorrow's game against the Washington Capitals) seems like a push but we'll see after that."


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