Francis not contacted

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said yesterday he has not been approached by any team seeking permission to speak with Ron Francis, his right-hand man in the 'Canes front office.

Reports around Toronto the past few days have mentioned Francis as a possible candidate to fill a role in the Maple Leafs management structure, either as team president or general manager.

Rutherford figures Francis, who recently was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, will be successful in whatever role he chooses to pursue.

"If he so chooses, I believe one day Ron will be a general manager or head coach in this league if and when the time is right," Rutherford said.

"I believe he is enjoying his time in the front office here. I just think the timing is right. He had his illustrious career as a player, took a couple of years off, then took a role in player development. Through it all, he never once used the 'star player' factor. Never."

THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE

Alexei Ponikarovsky will be a game-time decision for tonight's encounter with the rival Montreal Canadiens after leaving practice with a leg cramp yesterday.

"I just felt it tighten," Ponikarovsky said. "I didn't want to take any chances. I hope I can play but I don't want to make it worse and do anything that will keep me out for a while."

Winger Chad Kilger declared himself fit to play after sitting out the recently-completed trip with a leg injury.

Meanwhile defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo (knee) and forward Jiri Tlusty (ankle) were on the ice with the Leafs power-skating coach prior to practice. Colaiacovo definitely won't play against the Habs while Tlusty is doubtful.

LOOSE LEAFS

Emotions were running so high at practice, hulking Hal Gill and diminutive Jason Blake exchanged shoves.

"It's nothing," Blake said, adding that the Leafs can not afford to waste any more points. "I'm not saying it's do or die, but we're almost at that point," he said.


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