Plenty of questions to ponder

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

The Maple Leafs are playoff spectators for the second year in a row, while the Air Canada Centre will be dark for a third spring, counting the lockout.

While they have now put together back-to-back seasons with 41 and 40 wins, shootout losses, poor play in the division, blown leads and injuries factored against them again.

Some questions to ponder for the 2007-08 season:

1. Will John Ferguson be back as general manager?

MLSEL president Richard Peddie picked up his option for next year back in December, when the Leafs were healthy and in good playoff position and has re-stated that all personnel are subject to post-season review.

But Ferguson didn't get a long-term deal and the cost of eating the contract, estimated in the $850,000 US range, could be swallowed should MLSEL choose to bring in a name general manager in the manner of Raptors' Bryan Colangelo.

In the coming weeks, Ferguson will be helping choose Team Canada, watching the final four regular-season games for the AHL Marlies and getting an early line on free agents who are still playing.

2. Will captain Mats Sundin be back?

Ferguson tried all year to get league approval for a re-vamped two-year deal with Sundin under the salary cap. Instead of exercising the club option year of $4.56 million with its cap implications, the team hoped to offer him a somewhat cheaper, multi-year pact.

But given Sundin's repeated public wish to stay a Leaf something likely will be worked out.

3. Who is unsigned for next season?

Goaltender J.S. Aubin, defencemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White, forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov, Jeff O'Neill, Michael Peca, Boyd Devereaux, Yanic Perreault and Bates Battaglia.

Aubin, O'Neill, Perreault and Peca are the least assured of returning.

4. Which prospects will get the most attention in camp next season?

Czech forward Jiri Tlusty, last year's No. 1 pick, had a good year in Sault Ste. Marie after an ankle injury. Russian forward Nikolai Kulemin (44th overall) is now playing in his league championship, but no decision has been made to bring him over.

Goaltender Justin Pogge does not appear to be ready for the NHL yet, particularly to sit on the bench while Andrew Raycroft plays 60 to 70 games.

5. Where will the Leafs pick at this year's draft?

They will likely end 14th, pending other team's trades. They hold a pick in all seven rounds, with an extra fourth rounder.

6. Which Leafs might play for Team Canada?

No one has been approached, but Matt Stajan, Colaiacovo and White are now fair game.


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