Muir is making his presence felt

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

A sweating Bryan Muir apologized for cutting an interview short yesterday.

"I've been yelled at once for missing fitness training and I can't be late again," he explained.

No corners can be be cut when you're a 34-year-old journeyman who signed a tryout agreement only this past week and now must beat out a handful of hungry kids for the sixth or seventh spot on the Maple Leafs' defence.

But things have brightened a bit. Both general manager John Ferguson and coach Paul Maurice have praised his effort in two days of practice. And top rookie prospect Anton Stralman has been slow out of the gate with bronchitis.

Maurice is a big believer in keeping lots of defencemen around after the AHL Marlies and the Leafs ran short at times the past two seasons. While Andy Wozniewski, Staffan Kronwall and Jay Harrison are already fighting for the seventh and eighth spots, a stay-at-home veteran with almost 300 NHL games is an asset, at least with eight exhibition games coming up.

There might even be a little extra money to sign him to some type of minimum wage deal, given that Mark Bell's $2-million US salary will not count against the NHL salary cap while he serves a 15-game league suspension.

"The question is, do we save those gross dollars until the trade deadline in February or get someone with it now?" Ferguson said. "Bryan has come into camp looking fit and we'll see what happens."

Held to 26 games bcause of a broken foot last season, there was little summer interest in Muir, other than some talks with Phoenix.

Then Ferguson called.

"Patience was a virtue," Muir said. "This is a great opportunity and I think I can contribute to this team."


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