Peca wishes T.O. stint was longer

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Michael Peca would have loved to remain a Maple Leaf.

Having signed with his hometown team in the summer of 2006, Peca was en route to fulfilling a childhood dream when a bone in his right leg snapped during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks less than a week before Christmas of that year.

It would be the final game the Toronto native would play as a member of the blue-and-white.

Peca wanted to stay. He makes no secret of that fact. Maple Leafs management had other ideas.

"I knew when I came out of my meeting with them after the season that I (likely wouldn't be back)," said Peca yesterday from St. Louis, where his Columbus Blue Jackets faced off against the Blues later in the day.

"John (Ferguson) said at the time he didn't want to insult me with a lowball offer. From there, all summer long, I would read things that they were still interested in me. Yet it never happened.

"When Jason Blake signed, he was on a conference call and was told I was one of the (projected) centres. He was disappointed when it didn't happen."

Peca, who eventually would be inked by the Jackets, insists he holds no ill will toward the Leafs.

"If I was John Ferguson, I would have questions about a guy coming off a broken leg too," said Peca, whose Blue Jackets make a rare visit to the Air Canada Centre tomorrow. "But I know my body. I knew I would be fine."

Playing on a line with Jason Chimera and Nikolai Zherdev, Peca does not even need to ice the knee anymore. Unfortunately, a series of groin and muscle injuries have been his most pressing concern.

Coach Ken Hitchcock has used Peca in a variety of situations, including the power play, penalty killing and key five-on-five situations.

"It's been fun. He's a very professional coach who keeps us prepared. We have a really young team, something like seven or eight rookies," Peca said.

Blake and Peca, best friends dating back to their days as teammates with the New York Islanders, speak via phone several times a week.

"I know Jason has been frustrated at times," Peca said. "He's a hard-working, competitive guy. I just told him to hang in there, especially with the uncertainty going on with (the Maple Leafs) organization."

How sentimental will his return to Toronto be?

"Not very," he said. "I only played 35 games for the Leafs. A lot of the time I felt more like a spectator.

"The nicest part will be seeing friends and family."


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