Leaf hearts are in Toronto

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Dominic Moore has had plenty of reason to smile this season, not the least of which was the pleasure he took from yesterday's practice on an outdoor rink in the heart of the city he calls home.

If there is any player on this roster in transition who reveres the Maple Leaf more, let's hear from him.

It is part of the reason Moore couldn't hide his pride during yesterday's outdoor session in High Park, where he joined his team for the annual promotional drill.

But the harder he works and the more productive Moore becomes, the more he actually may be jeopardizing his future with the team he cherishes.

"I've said all along, I'd love to be able to stay and I've enjoyed my time here," Moore said after the crisp skate in front of 700 or so mostly school-aged fans. "I take a lot of pride in wearing this jersey and trying to work hard to help the team.

"We'll just try to see if we can work something out."

The "we" is the Moore camp and Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who began negotiating to re-sign the 28-year-old, a pending unrestricted free agent this summer.

It's also a reasonable expectation that Burke will shop Moore around prior to the March 4 deadline.

With 11 goals and 39 points -- both career highs -- Moore's value never has been higher, both in terms of possible trades and earnings potential should the Leafs get serious about keeping him.

On one hand, Leafs coach Ron Wilson has said that part of the reason Moore has excelled this season is that he has been given ice time he wouldn't have had with a better team. If the Leafs have to trade him, that view isn't exactly a ringing endorsement and mildly unfair to the breakthrough season Moore has had.

On the other hand, if the team is set on keeping him, such a public statement serves as a message that they aren't willing to overpay when negotiations get serious.

Few would argue that Moore hasn't earned it, however, if for no other reason than the production he has helped induce from linemate Jason Blake.

Moore certainly was enjoying himself yesterday, remembering his days growing up in Thornhill when he'd skate for hours on Oakbank Pond.

"I know what it's about and respect what (being a Leaf) means to the people," Moore said. "I appreciate situations like this where I've been on the side of the fence looking in, that type of feeling.

"There's not much that means more to people than the Leafs in Toronto."

Moore isn't alone in that recognition, as we have seen in recent weeks from defenceman Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle, who are united in their desire to remain here.

Kaberle acknowledged yesterday that he helped his agent come up with his list of 10 possible destinations should Burke opt to trade him. But the personable Czech reiterated his stance that he would prefer to stay.

Kaberle also said that he was heartened by recent comments from Burke, which strongly suggested he wasn't going to be moved, though he cautioned not to read too much into those words.

"It's always nice to be wanted, but it's not 100% (that he will remain here)," said Kaberle, who is expected to return to the Leafs lineup on Saturday after missing four weeks with broken bones in his hand.

"Obviously, everybody wants to play here. It's the best city to play hockey. For now, I just want to get comfortable with my hand and get back in the lineup as soon as possible."

And, like Moore, if each has his way, for as long as possible.


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