Domi, McCabe and Decisions, Decisions
The Maple Leafs may not be in the 2006 Stanley Cup final, but that doesn't mean they're not the focus of a surprising degree of intrigue.
Before Game 3 on Saturday, for example, there was widespread speculation that GM John Ferguson had officially bought out veteran winger Tie Domi from the final year of his contract. Domi may not be a big scorer or an all-star, but he is not only the most popular Leaf but a player watched closely around the NHL, so the buyout had surprising traction before the Oilers and Hurricanes hit the ice.
Only problem was, the story wasn't true. Couldn't be true in fact.
The buyout season, you see, has not yet begun. Teams can offer two-thirds buyouts commencing either June 15th or 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup final.
Given that Thursday is the 15th but, going into Game 4, the series could not end before Wednesday, that meant a buyout of Domi or any NHLer would not be possible until Friday at the earliest.
Then again, the NHL is certainly playing with the rules a lot these days, whether its extending the period teams have to sign their own free agents or when this summer's actual free agent season will begin.
Domi is scheduled to earn $1.25 million this season.
There is also speculation, meanwhile, that the 36-year-old enforcer may choose to retire, thus leaving the game and the team of his own volition and keeping his post-hockey profile unsullied.
Domi remains, as mentioned, hugely popular, and that could translate into significant retirement business possiblities if he can leave the sport in a positive way rather than being cut loose and waived through the league. Even worse would be the possibility that, like last season with Brian McGrattan, Domi would have to go through the meat grinder of facing the league's various young tough guys next season.
That, of course, is the lesson of enforcers over the years. No matter how tough and dominating an NHL heavyweight is, somebody bigger and meaner and younger always comes along.
While the Domi watch continues, there reamins intense confusion over the inability of the club to announce a new contract for defenceman Bryan McCabe.
This one has been sitting out there for more than a week, with stories furiously circulating that McCabe's wife is disinclined to stay in Toronto.
Right now, it's hard to see how this one turns out positively for the Leafs.
There was already much debate over whether McCabe was even worth the five-year deal worth an average of $5.5 million per season that was apparently being offered by the Leafs.
Now, with it appearing as though giving the defenceman big money, substantial term and a no movement clause wasn't good enough, McCabe and/or the Leafs are creating the uncomfortable public percepton that the player is very reluctant to return.
As usual, the Leafs and Ferguson have been awkward in their public handling of the situation, offering no explanation to anybody, on or off the record, as to what the problem might be.