Toronto set to play the game

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

Imagine Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin looking over on his left flank and seeing Captain Canada, Ryan Smyth.

If not Smyth, how about the presence of a Chris Drury/Daniel Briere/Scott Gomez type, a young stud who could carry the ball once Sundin decides to hang up his skates?

During the past weeks, the Maple Leafs brass carefully has studied these options heading into the opening of the unrestricted free-agency period at noon tomorrow.

They eagerly are interested in each of those scenarios but, as history has shown, the opening day of free agency always is a crapshoot.

EXTENSION

When it comes to getting names on a contract, the best bet seems to be recently acquired goaltender Vesa Toskala, who is expected to ink an extension -- possibly for three years. League rules prohibit such a deal from being officially signed until July 1.

A report yesterday suggested the Leafs and Toskala's agent, Don Baizley, had put in place the framework for an agreement for three years and an option. But, as general manager John Ferguson pointed out last night, option years no longer are part of contracts since the new collective bargaining agreement kicked in two years ago.

Asked if the goal was to lock up Toskala long term once July 1 rolled around, Ferguson said, "That is our intention."

While the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and even the New York Islanders expected to be active in the bidding for marquee forwards such as Smyth, Drury, Briere and Gomez, the Leafs might be more in the hunt than originally thought after the 2007-08 salary cap was set at $50.3 million US yesterday.

Here's why.

The Leafs have about $44.7 million US tied up in salaries. Assuming Toskala receives about a $2 million raise per season from the $1.375 million he is scheduled to earn this year, that puts Toronto at about $46.7 million.

PAYROLL

Because teams can spend up to 110% of the cap up to the opening day of the season, the Leafs could run their payroll up to approximately $55 million.

Under that scenario, they would have about $8.3 million available for free agents.

In that event, they would have to lop off about $5 million in the next three months via the trade or waiver route in order to get back down to the $50.3-million figure.

The Leafs will not be alone in their pursuit of Smyth. At least nine or 10 teams will show interest including the Islanders, who reportedly have offered a multi-year deal worth in excess of $6 million per season.

"Ryan has shown, both on and off the ice, what a great player and great teammate he is," Smyth's agent, Don Meehan, said yesterday. "Teams know that."

If the Big Four forwards are snapped up, the Leafs might have to turn to the likes of a Jason Blake, Robert Lang, Paul Kariya or even Todd Bertuzzi.

Meehan suggested the Leafs wanted to wait for the cap figure to be released before making a final decision on forward Michael Peca, who still could be retained after July 1.


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