Lost and found: That wanted feeling

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- As he prepared to depart the only NHL home he has known, Nik Antropov wished that his ticket out of town had been punched a little more privately by incoming general manager Brian Burke.

"I know I wasn't playing that well at the time," Antropov said in a phone interview yesterday. "I prefer to speak head-to-head with someone, instead of going public."

If you haven't noticed by now, that is not always Burke's style.

It was a lesson that Antropov learned the hard way last month.

At that time, he was caught completely off-guard when Burke told AM-640 that the big forward's days in Toronto were numbered, claiming Antropov's play had not "merited" a new contract offer.

Sure enough, three weeks later, Burke's message proved prophetic. Nik Antropov, a member of the Maple Leafs organization since being plucked 10th overall in the 1998 entry draft, is now a New York Ranger, having been swapped yesterday for a second-round pick and a conditional pick.

He is scheduled to make his Rangers debut tonight in Uniondale against the Islanders. Of course, he will not be the focus of attention. Not when some guy named Sean Avery returns to the Rangers lineup. Let the circus begin.

At the same time Antropov gets his first nibble of the Rangers-Isles rivalry, another player who was unceremoniously cast adrift by his former club will attempt to impress his new teammates.

About a four-hour drive south of New York, Martin Gerber, the butt of so many jokes in Ottawa, is scheduled to be the Maple Leafs' starting goaltender against the Washington Capitals here tonight at the Verizon Center.

On one of the stranger trade deadline days in recent Leafs history, this certainly was a tale of two unwanted players.

On one hand, there was Antropov, bound for the Big Apple knowing he did not fit into Burke's vision of the team.

On the other, there was the much-maligned Gerber, whom the Ottawa Senators were desperately hoping would get claimed on waivers -- and, thanks to the Leafs, did.

If the Leafs get the same Martin Gerber who backstopped Switzerland to a 2-0 upset of the heavily favoured Canadians at the 2006 Turin Olympics -- a moment "I'll never forget," he said yesterday -- he might be much more than just a band-aid solution for Toronto while Vesa Toskala undergoes surgery on his hip. But he has not shown that same form recently.

An unrestricted free agent come July 1, Gerber, 34, went 4-9-1 with a 2.86 goals against average and .899 save percentage for the Sens this season before being banished to Binghamton in the American Hockey League. He was recalled last week to serve as a backup for the Senators' 4-3 loss to the Leafs.

"It's hard to explain what happened in Ottawa," Gerber said. "I was the odd man out. Things didn't go the way there that I wanted them to.

"I definitely think I can still do it. I'm just excited to get another chance. It's just nice to feel wanted again."

SOUNDS FAMILIAR

Antropov agreed.

"I'm really excited," he said. "The Rangers want me. It's a good feeling.

"When I was talking to (Rangers GM) Glen Sather not long after the trade, he told me he had hoped to draft me back in 1998 while he was with Edmonton, but the Leafs beat him to the punch."

Looking back at his 11 years in Toronto, Antropov leaves behind the memory of 291 points, two reconstructed knees and a few jeers from the home crowd.

"No one likes the boos," he said. "But overall, I was treated great there. This is just a new chapter for my career."

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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