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Move to Toronto would be a 'dream come true'
Club signs Antropov to one-year, $1M contract
Jul. 7, 2006. 01:00 AM

Mike Peca and the Maple Leafs could form the perfect hockey marriage.

The Leafs are looking to fill their No.2 centre spot but with dwindling resources under the salary cap. Peca is a Toronto native willing to take a hit on his $4 million (all figures U.S.) salary in order to move his family to where it will be happiest.

No surprise then that the Leafs have entered into serious negotiations with the unrestricted free agent who was a key component in the Oilers' drive to the Stanley Cup final, a run that salvaged what had been a mediocre regular season for the 32-year-old.

"Of course I'd have a desire to play there," Peca told the Fan 590 about the possibility of playing in Toronto. "Free agency works different for different people. It's either an opportunity to make as much money as you can or it's an opportunity to try and locate yourself where you really want to play and I think that's the case for me this time around."

Peca has let it be known that he does not want to return to Edmonton and a move east makes sense. He grew up in North York as a fan of the Leafs and Lanny McDonald, and his wife is from Buffalo.

"It'd be a dream come true," Peca said. "At the same time, I realize the importance of putting on that jersey and the privilege of it.

"It would be a case where you'd pinch yourself."

Toronto general manager John Ferguson was not available for comment last night but his team — even with Nik Antropov, as expected, agreeing yesterday to a one-year deal for about $1 million — has about $4 million left to spend without exceeding their self-imposed salary cap of $42.5 million.

Though they still need to sign four more players with that cash, it is thought that Peca won't come close to getting the $3.999 million he earned with the Oilers last season.

He may come in at well under $3 million.

It appears the Leafs could make it work under a scenario where a couple of smaller-salaried forwards from the Marlies such as Jeremy Williams or Ben Ondrus earned spots on the big club.

If the Leafs do land Peca, that would almost certainly preclude them from signing Eric Lindros, an unrestricted free agent who played with the team last season, or trading for Gary Roberts, the veteran winger who is hoping to get traded back to Toronto from Florida for personal reasons.

The Leafs have been kicking tires on those veterans as they look to augment their forwards and Ferguson has said he is looking for the best way to maximize value on his remaining funds.

Peca once regularly scored 20 goals a season as one of the NHL's best two-way players, but last season he had the worst production of his career scoring just nine goals and adding 14 assists in 71 games.

But it is the playoff Peca that the Leafs would hope to get.

He had 11 points in 24 post-season games but, more importantly, displayed leadership, grit and tenacity that was once a hallmark of his career while being a spark plug for the Oilers.

THIRD COACH FOR LEAFS: Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, confirmed last night that the Leafs will have an additional assistant under new head coach Paul Maurice.

"(He) will focus on development. In our budget and in our plan, there is a third assistant coach. It's up to (Maurice) how to use him," said Peddie, who was the keynote speaker at a coaches' conference that began in Toronto yesterday.
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