Tucker may become a target in Leafs overhaul

Darcy Tucker at Maple Leafs' practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, March 31, 2008 (Sun...

Darcy Tucker at Maple Leafs' practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, March 31, 2008 (Sun Media/Craig Robertson)

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 8:37 PM ET

In the atrium that separates Union Station from the Air Canada Centre, it is hard to avoid Darcy Tucker. He is larger than life, and everywhere you look.

A face to put on a hockey franchise that doesn't necessarily have one: A face, on walls and on in-house advertising, that everybody knows.

Only now, the face is in danger of moving on. Once, the most popular Leaf, now just another name in play. There are two games left this season at the ACC, perhaps the final two appearances for Tucker as a Maple Leaf.

He knows this is possible, tries not to dwell on it. He has seen the writing on the wall -- and knowing Tucker, read the writing in the newspapers -- yet he hopes the stories are not true.

"I'm a little bit emotional (about this)," he said in a rare one-on-one interview yesterday. "I don't know what the future holds for me here. I don't think any of us do. It's one of those rare situations in pro sports."

Rare is a nice word. The Leafs have an interim general manager who won't be in charge come summer. They have a coach who may not be the coach come next week. They have players, like Tucker, under contract, who may have their contracts bought out come June. Promises of change have been uttered. Uncertainty resonates around this club as the season now crawls to an end.

"This is home," said Tucker. He was traded here from Tampa when he was 24. He just celebrated his 33rd birthday a few weeks back. "This place was the turning point in my career. This is where I've grown up, where I've had success. We had some really good years, really good teams.

"I want to remain a Leaf. This is where I feel I belong."

Tucker's problem happens to be both performance and a contract with three years remaining at $3 million a season. He has never been paid more, never performed less in his time in Toronto. The combination of all that, along with a third straight season out of the playoffs, puts him, naturally, in play.

Unlike the other no-trade kids who wouldn't agree to go elsewhere, he potentially is a victim of his own economics. At $3 million a year for three more years, he is relatively easy and convenient to buy out.

The Leafs would only have to pay $1 million a season for the next six seasons to rid themselves of Tucker. The economics for buyouts of players such as Jason Blake, Bryan McCabe or Pavel Kubina -- if they can't otherwise be moved -- are not quite so tidy

For Tucker, the question becomes: Is he worth keeping at $3 million a season for three more seasons or worth throwing away for $1 million a year?

And assuming the decision has to be made before the July 1 deadline, the future general manager may not even be party to determining whether he wants to have Tucker around anymore.

There will be the annual year-end meetings with players following Saturday's season finale in Montreal. But this year will certainly be different. This year the coach holding those meetings, Maurice, may not be the coach very much longer. "Summer," said Tucker, "comes quick."

PART OF SOLUTION

Maybe Tucker will find out what the Leafs think of him then. Maybe he won't. Not that many years ago, a Leafs player had his year-end meeting with the club and had a sterling evaluation by the coach and general manager. Several weeks later, a courier arrived at the players' front door. The envelope delivered carried a buyout of his contract from the Leafs.

So much for year-end meetings.

"We'd all like to think we're part of the solution. But we're also part of what got us here," said the pragmatic Tucker. "That's not easy to think about ... We didn't do what we needed to do. No matter how well we played, we waited too long. It cost us. We didn't come up big when we needed to. We kind of blew that opportunity at home against Boston."

And if this is the end for Tucker as a Leaf?

"It's out of my control ... It's been fun, that's for sure. If it doesn't work out, I don't know ... I'm looking forward to an interesting summer and hopefully I'm still here at the end of it."


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