Perreault returns for third tour

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

John Ferguson surrendered a prize young bull, but resisted selling the whole farm for a playoff stab and job security.

With a number of high picks changing hands yesterday in a flurry of late deals involving bubble teams such as his Maple Leafs, the general manager's only move was for depth forward Yanic Perreault, as he covered his assets and counted on returning players for a playoff push.

Ferguson gave up defenceman Brendan Bell and a 2008 second-rounder to the Phoenix Coyotes to bring the 35-year-old Perreault back for his third tour in Toronto. The Leafs also gets a fifth rounder.

Ferguson had a season-long conundrum; whether to import veteran help and get his bosses back their playoff revenue, or keep the young nucleus together and risk a second spring on the sidelines. The latter carries the possible consequence of job dismissal unless MLSEL is on the same page.

"They understand what we're doing," Ferguson said last night at the Air Canada Centre. "This group will be one year better (in 2008). But make no mistake, our goal is to make the playoffs. The return of Darcy (Tucker) will have as much impact as any of the deals we've seen.

"Our plan going in was to keep the Tlustys, Pogges, Steens, Stajans, Colaiacovos and Whites. We've not moved them the last three years and we're looking to sign more prospects from Europe. We're not looking to move any of our 'A' level young players in a rental."

Faceoff specialist Perreault is low-cost, low-risk in that regard, with Tucker due back in the next few games and then Kyle Wellwood in March. Perreault played his cards right as a free agent, waiting while a line of teams formed, eventually signing for a $700,000 US one-year contract with the Coyotes.

"It feels like Groundhog Day again," Perreault said jokingly of being drafted here in 1991, traded to Los Angeles in 1994, re-acquired in 1999, released in 2001 and traded for again about 90 minutes before the deadline.

"The Toronto fans were always good to me."

Perreault and Ferguson were non-commital to Perreault re-signing here this summer.

Perreault will bring draw power to a team that just blew a huge game to Montreal on two faceoffs and was only 43-for-55 while penalty killing this month.

Ferguson watched in amazement as first- and second-rounders were swapped for rentals the past week.

"We're happy to still have our first-round picks (in 2007 and 2008)," said Ferguson, who claimed the Leafs will see out the season as the 11th-youngest team in the NHL. "Some teams really de-valued high picks. Some teams are thinking: 'We'll have enough cap space in the summer and enough good, young prospects that we'll move (picks).' "

Ferguson said he regretted losing Bell after the defenceman had waited a few years for his big chance, but feared he wouldn't be able to protect all his young defencemen in waiver situations next autumn.

Bell saw the writing on the wall in the form of the Leafs blueline depth chart. He was used at right wing recently.

"A great opportunity is the way I look at this," Bell said last night. "I built a lot of good relationships here, but I'm looking forward to playing for Wayne Gretzky."

He said he has held candid discussions about his future with Leafs management, but did not make a direct trade request.

THE DEAL

To the Leafs: C Yanic Perreault

2006-07 GP G A PTS

Phoenix 49 19 14 33

Leads the NHL with a 62.6% faceoff percentage ... Represented Phoenix in the all-star game ... Originally Toronto's first pick, 47th overall in 1991 NHL draft ... Joins Harry Cameron, Wendel Clark, Babe Dye and Ben Grant as players having three different playing tenures with the Toronto franchise during their careers ... Age 35, height 5-foot-11, weight 185 lbs.

To the Coyotes: D Brendan Bell

2006-07 GP G A PTS

Toronto 31 1 4 5

Toronto's third choice in 2001 draft ... CHL all-star in 2003 with Ottawa 67s ... Member of Canada's gold-medal winning Spengler Cup team in 2004 ... Scored first NHL goal on Jan. 20 @ Pittsburgh ... Has considered a post-playing career in journalism ... Age 23, height 6-foot-1, weight 205 lbs.


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