Brendan Witt a popular guy among Leafs fans

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

Brendan Witt had no idea you cared so much.

When the veteran Washington Capitals defenceman publicly requested a trade to a contender back in August, he was unaware of the impact his announcement would have here in Toronto.

In the two-plus months that have transpired since his statement, Witt's name seems to come up whenever the Maple Leafs defence struggles.

Whether it be in the local blogs, post-game talk shows or reader e-mails/letters to the local newspapers, the debate over whether the Leafs should pursue him continues to rage.

Witt, 30, is aware the Leafs might be interested in him. But the native of Humboldt, Sask., was caught completely off-guard when informed that he has been one of the hottest topics among Hogtown hockey fans for weeks.

"Wow. That's flattering," Witt, whose Capitals host the Leafs tomorrow, said during a phone interview. "I knew Toronto was one of the teams rumoured to be looking at me, but I didn't know people there were talking about me like that.

"I don't have family in Toronto, so no one told me what was going on. I'm more of a western boy."

Witt, who figured he might have been moved by now, feels a trade will be only a matter of time, given the fact that he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

"I haven't changed my stance from (the summer)," the 6-foot-2, 219-pounder said. "I still feel the same way. It is what it is."

For their part, the Caps understandably are attempting to get the highest return on their asset and are taking their time.

"Right now, I'm still a Washington Capital," said Witt, who earns $1.672 million US this season. "I'm still wearing a Caps jersey and I'm still playing my heart out. I wouldn't be helping anyone if I were to sit in the corner and pout. You can't act like a crybaby."

Having never scored more than three goals in a season, Witt's niche is that of a stay-at-home blue liner. Unfortunately, it is this dying breed of player that seems to be having the most struggles with the NHL's new "look-but-don't-touch" rules.

"It's been hard to adjust," he said. "The rules benefit the forwards, but I hope the league has open ears to allow compensation for defenders, too. Right now, they are taking the grit right out of the hockey game."

As he awaits a trade, Witt is in regular contact with his mom, wife and two kids down at the family home in Jupiter, Fla. Witt's neighbourhood still is cleaning up after Hurricane Wilma ravaged the area less than two weeks ago.

Because the Caps had a break in the schedule at the time, Witt was granted permission by the team to go home to his family as the storm approached.

"We were lucky," he said. "The eye of the hurricane passed directly over us but we didn't suffer any major damage other than some downed trees. The power was out for four days but I was prepared and had a generator on hand."

Some of his neighbours were not as fortunate.

"The guy across the street has a snowbank of sand that blew on to his front lawn," Witt said.

NIEUWY NEWS

Florida Panthers officials are cautiously optimistic that former Maple Leaf Joe Nieuwendyk can avoid going under the knife to treat his ailing back.

Nieuwendyk was at the Cleveland Clinic earlier this week seeking a second opinion from Dr. Tony Miniaci, the one-time Blue Jays physician and world-renowned orthopedist.

While Cleveland Clinic doctors are expected to consult with the medical staff of the Panthers in the coming days before a final decision is made, there is talk that Nieuwendyk could resume skating early next week.

"I know he is getting better," said coach Jacques Martin, whose Panthers finish off their six-game trip tonight in Carolina. "When we get back (to Florida), we'll sit with him, get a report from (Miniaci) and our doctor. When you have those situations, it's something you want to evaluate, but it's going to be up to him. He knows how he feels and the info he has got from the doctor."

ON THE HOTSEAT

It took just 13 games for the first call demanding an NHL coach's head on a platter.

The bench boss in question is the New York Islanders' Steve Stirling, who was serenaded by chants of "Fire Stirling" from the ornery Nassau Coliseum crowd in the third period of a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Thursday night.

"Tell them to get in line," Stirling told reporters afterward, suggesting the concept of his dismissal might be nothing new.

HEAD GAMES

Philadelphia Flyers captain Keith Primeau remains in limbo after recently being elbowed in the head by Montreal Canadiens bad boy Alexander Perezhogin. Primeau suffered his fourth concussion in 20 months, as well as a case of whiplash on the hit by Perezhogin, leaving the Whitby native with pain in his neck and shoulders, spurts of blurry vision and dizziness when he lies down. "I will be back," said Primeau, who is scheduled to undergo more baseline neuro-psychological testing on Monday.

CROSS CHECKS

Nashville's Paul Kariya, the leading scorer in in Anaheim history, was booed every time he touched the puck by the Mighty Ducks crowd on Tuesday ... Playing in the weak Central Division, the Detroit Red Wings are 9-0-0 against sub-.500 teams ... Sorry to rain on commissioner Gary Bettman's "everything is just peachy" campaign, but there are attendance problems on Long Island, were the Isles have drawn fewer than 11,000 fans in three of seven home games.


Videos

Photos