FORT LAUDERDALE -- When Wade Belak laces up the blades against his former team tonight, he has one goal in mind:
Get No. 16 in blue and white!
"The first guy I'm going after is Darcy Tucker," Belak proclaimed.
"Okay, I'm just joking. I hated to play against him but it was great to play with him. It's just ironic that I'm playing my first game as a Panther against my former team."
Whether Belak and Chad Kilger will be in the Florida lineup tonight remains to be seen, according to Panthers general manager/coach Jacques Martin.
"There are immigration issues, so whether they can play (tonight) I'm not sure at this time," Martin said yesterday.
Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher found an eager trading partner in Martin yesterday, dealing Belak for a fifth-round draft pick and Kilger for a third-rounder.
At least Belak will not find a hard time finding a place to live here in his new toasty hockey home.
"Eddie Belfour phoned me from Sweden," Belak said. "Somehow he found out about (the trade). He said I could use his place down here.
"I was very surprised (at being dealt). I got off the plane when we landed here joking that I would be the next to go because the rest of the guys didn't waive their no-trades. Who knew?"
Among those who will miss Belak the most, both on and off the ice, is defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who is still grateful for how Belak stood up for him a year ago. After a Cam Janssen cheap shot left Kaberle with a concussion, Belak targeted the New Jersey pugilist the next time the Leafs and Devils met.
"It shows you how he always came to the aid of a teammate," Kaberle said.
GILL GOES TO PENS
Belak will become an unrestricted free agent this summer while Kilger has one season remaining on his three-year, $2.7-million US deal.
While Kilger and Belak are going to a Panthers team fighting to make the post-season, defenceman Hal Gill heads to a Stanley Cup contender in the Pittsburgh Penguins. Adding Marian Hossa to a roster that already included Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin makes Pittsburgh a Cup favourite.
"There definitely are a lot of weapons there," said Gill, who still has one-year remaining on his contract at $2.075 million. "It makes my job easier. I just have to make quick passes and get them the puck.
"I'll miss Toronto. At the same time it's exciting. That's what it is all about - trying to win the Stanley Cup."