WITH THE National Hockey League about to be re-launched -- talks resumed in small groups yesterday in New York -- Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson must take a long-range look at his goaltending.
He retains confidence that 40-year-old Ed Belfour hasn't lost his edge, despite a year off that included back surgery. Last summer, Belfour re-signed for a $2 million US bonus, $6 million for the lockout year and the same for 2005-06. With the coming 24% rollback, he still will make $3.9 million this year.
At the same time, Ferguson has to start looking at a future without the former Vezina Trophy winner. The crop of free agents about to come on the market is bound to include some goalies.
"We are preparing for (Belfour's eventual retirement) and cross that bridge when we come to it," Ferguson said. "But we're very happy with what we have with Ed right now."
Mikael Tellqvist was steady, but not dominating in the American Hockey League in 2004-05. Jean-Sebastien Aubin, 27, is a question mark and high draft picks Todd Ford (74th in 2002)and Justin Pogge (90th in 2004) are still developing.
Meanwhile, there is speculation that former Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph would return if things don't work out with Belfour under the salary cap.
Now a free agent, the 38-year-old Joseph chose the Detroit Red Wings over the Leafs in the summer of 2002 as a better Stanley Cup bet.