Svehla Retired Officially? Wesley contract closer than ever

KEN CAMPBELL

SPORTS REPORTER

The Maple Leafs lost their best defenceman from the regular season when Robert Svehla confirmed that he intends to remain retired.

But they got some good news on their best defenceman from the playoffs when they received Glen Wesley’s proposal for a new contract.

Svehla made it clear that his on-again, off-again career with the Leafs was off when he informed his agent Ritch Winter of his decision yesterday. Svehla, who announced his retirement shortly after the Leafs were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, reconsidered his decision after speaking directly to Leafs GM-coach Pat Quinn last week.

In fact, the two sides had come to terms on the parameters of a new contract, which included a raise on his $4 million (U.S.) salary. But in the end, Svehla decided he didn’t have another year of hockey left in his 34-year-old body.

“He just doesn’t have the passion to play at this point,” Winter said. “A lot of people said he should still be playing, but this was not something he thought he should do for other people.”

Svehla said yesterday that he was tempted to return to the Leafs after speaking with Quinn, but said his family is more important than hockey.

“My family would rather stay here (Slovakia) and we are very happy right now,” Svehla said.

When asked whether he has retired for good this time, Svehla said, “Yes, I think so. My position is that I want to retire and in two weeks I don’t want to go through all this again.”

But despite the Leafs’ request he file retirement papers, Svehla won’t do that at the urging of Winter, who would still like to leave the door open a sliver.

“He was willing to do so, but he hasn’t done that on my advice,” Winter said. “Will it change things? I don’t think so but never say never.”

Leafs executive Bill Watters, meanwhile, received a contract proposal from Wesley’s agent, Rick Curran, yesterday and the two sides will talk again next week.

While Watters wouldn’t comment on the particulars of the proposal, he said there is reason for optimism.

“It was pretty much what Rick told me it was going to be and there were no surprises,” Watters said. “It was not outlandish by any stretch.”

Wesley will become a free agent July 1 if the Leafs don’t sign him before then.

With Svehla, the Leafs will pick up the option on his contract simply to retain his rights if he does change his mind again. But there’s little doubt that Svehla’s retirement leaves a huge void on the blue line that will likely be filled by a free-agent acquisition. The Leafs will undoubtedly be in the running should Derian Hatcher of the Dallas Stars become a free agent, but a more likely possibility is Ken Klee of the Washington Capitals or Greg de Vries of the Colorado Avalanche.

Meanwhile, Leaf winger Alexander Mogilny appears to be sticking to his word that he won’t attend the NHL awards ceremony tomorrow night in Toronto. Mogilny stands an excellent chance of being named winner of the Lady Byng Trophy as most gentlemanly player, but a source close to Mogilny said he won’t be here to accept it.

Leafs goalie Ed Belfour, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender, will be at the gala.