MLSEL feels the crunch

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Even the deep pockets at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. are feeling the cash crunch of the harsh economic times.

While the situation is nowhere as dire as that of the Blue Jays, who recently laid off 20-plus employees, MLSEL president Richard Peddie said the corporation has adopted a "soft freeze."

"We've already started cutting costs out that are not necessary," Peddie said yesterday while leaving the NHL board of governors meetings in Florida. "And if a position is open, there is no rush to fill it, if it is filled at all."

Peddie said the primary challenges are short-term issues such as suite and ticket sales, which will be "understandably more difficult."

"We are fortunate that we are in such a vibrant hockey market but that does not mean we are not feeling the challenges. We certainly are."

During the meetings at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, the NHL brought in economists to crunch the numbers concerning the financial future of the league.

"We already had economists come to (MLSEL) a couple months ago, so we are well aware of the situation," Peddie said, adding that projects such as Maple Leaf Square and the team's new practice facility likely will not be affected by the global woes.

"Those are long-term investments," he said. "All the condos are already sold."

Mats mania

With former Leafs captain Mats Sundin scheduled to arrive in New York tomorrow for a PokerStars promotion, it is expected the Rangers will request a meeting with the Swede.

On Saturday, Sundin will just happen to be in a suite at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers-Carolina Hurricanes game, as host of PokerStars contest winners.

With Sundin apparently hoping to make up his mind about a new team by Dec. 15, the timing could not be better for the Rangers, considered the frontrunners to sign the centre. The Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning also have expressed interest.

Blake a burden?

Jason Blake's recent improved play will have the most optimistic of fans figuring his trade value might be on the increase. Truth be told, the five-year, $20-million US deal he signed during the summer of 2007 is a deterrent for any team. The Leafs' most realistic option: Buy him out next off-season, which would cost management $1.333 million US in each of the next six years.

Schedule saga

The Leafs do have a point about having to make two West Coast trips within a month, as was recently the case. But do you really think they will get -- or deserve -- any sympathy from the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, who play just four hours down the road from Toronto? Not a chance. Because they are in the Western Conference, the Wings play almost every road game outside their Eastern time zone. Their travel sked is far more brutal than that of the Leafs, yet they were able to win the championship last season.

Front office faceoff?

If Joe Nieuwendyk is retained in some capacity by Hockey Canada after the 2009 world championship, it will pit him against his new boss with the Maple Leafs, Brian Burke, at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Burke is the general manager of the U.S. team while Nieuwendyk potentially could be part of the Team Canada braintrust. Should Burke brings on Leafs coach Ron Wilson as coach of the Americans, well, that U.S.-Canada game will have a unique in-house Maple Leafs flavour.

Head games

Former Leafs Eric Lindros and Alyn McCauley will join Jeff Beukeboom as participants in the London Hockey Concussion Summit on Jan. 17. It seems everyone has voiced an opinion on head shots in hockey but the opinions of these former players should be taken to heart. Each battled his own concussion demons and knows how much the effects can linger.


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