Leafs hope Peca back for playoffs

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

It didn't take the vultures around the NHL long to act on the news that Michael Peca might be done for the season.

With Peca out at least three months after undergoing surgery yesterday, Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson received a text message from an executive with another NHL team.

Sorry to hear about Michael, the message said. Our owners are looking to cut payroll. Are you interested?

Ferguson can expect many similar inquiries from around the league in the coming weeks, given the gaping hole up the middle created by Peca's absence.

In the meantime, Peca, who signed a one-year, $2.5-million US deal during the summer, may have played his final game as a Leaf, although Ferguson was not about go that far.

"We look forward to having Michael back in the playoffs," Ferguson said last night.

Severely hurt after a knee-on-knee hit with the Chicago Blackhawks Jim Vandermeer Monday night, Peca sustained a fractured tibial plate, the area in which the top of the shin bone meets the knee.

Peca also suffered damage to the meniscus in his right knee.

Because the Leafs are near the $44-million cap, they can go over that amount if they place Peca on long-term injury reserve and replace him. A player is eligible for long-term IR if he is expected to miss at least 10 games and 24 days of the season.

"You can replace if you go over the cap up to the value of the contract," Ferguson said. "It will allow us to explore some options."

The Leafs might not opt to put Peca on the list, however, until they have identified someone to bring in from outside to fill his role.

Veteran centre Craig Conroy has been shopped by the L.A. Kings this season and could be just one of a handful of names that will be bandied about in the coming weeks as the rumour mill heats up.

Due to the Christmas trade freeze, no deals can be made until later this week, anyway.

Ferguson does not appear to be in any rush, although he is examining all his options.

"Michael is a difficult commodity to replace, given the leadership he's brought to this team," Ferguson said. "He has earned the respect in the room."


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