Svehla's retirement update

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It probably may take an extra million dollars — US of course — and the consent of two young children to bring star defenceman Robert Svehla back to the Maple Leafs for the 2003-04 NHL season.

That’s the impression I had after talking to Svehla yesterday from his home in Trencin, Slovakia. Robo, as Svehla is known to his friends, was reading a book when I reached him by phone. But his hockey equipment was at the door, to head to yet another workout after he finished reading that particular chapter.

The workman-like defenceman has a 30% stake in the Dukla Trencin club and came out of planned retirement to join the Leafs last year when the club agreed to support Dukla Trencin to the tune of $1 million.

“I have been retiring for the past four years, but somehow I still got back to the game I love,” Svehla said. “But this time it’s not only my decision. My sons (Dominik, 12 and Robert, 8) love it in Trencin.

“Mind you, they also liked Toronto where they made good friends. I could, perhaps, just say to them that we’re returning to Toronto for one more year and that would be it. But I don’t want to do that. I want them (his kids) and my wife, Ludmila, to tell me that they want to return.

“I have to think of them and their schooling. Last year, we brought a teacher — Anna Zigova — from Trencin to Toronto to teach the boys in Slovak. She taught them well because both of them had high marks.”

What would it take to have him postpone retirement plans for at least one more year, I asked?

“As I said, it would take, in the first place, the consent of my family,” Svehla said. “Then, perhaps, I would hope that the Leafs would contribute (again) to the Dukla Trencin team. After that it would also depend on what kind of team Pat Quinn would line up for next season.”

Putting the emphasis, perhaps inadvertently or subconsciously, on the word “we,” Svehla added: “We still need a solid defenceman. (Glen) Wesley is a steady defenceman who doesn’t make mistakes. (Bryan) McCabe was ready for the season, but perhaps thinking too much about his play. But we need another (stay at home) defenceman.”

Svehla discussed his situation the other day with Quinn, who told him he would understand if the defenceman decided to stay retired for family reasons.

In that case, Quinn said he would need an answer within two weeks, so he could direct the extra money towards signing another free agent blue-liner.

But Quinn also told Svehla he would like to see him back in a Maple Leafs uniform for next season.

Has Robo discussed his plans with other people in addition to his agent, Ritch Winter?

“I spoke to Mats Sundin at the world championship,” Svehla said. “He told me I’d be crazy not to return to Toronto because the team needs me. In the next day or two, I’ll be talking to Eddie Belfour. He’s another older, experienced player and I’ll discuss the situation with him.”

Svehla will not hear any objections from Ludmila about returning to Toronto.

She is a gifted equestrienne who competed in Toronto. She is now waiting for the arrival of her horse from Toronto via Amsterdam. Ludmila is not against spending another season in Toronto because she could continue riding here.

Svehla is not the only European player who has a financial interest in a local hockey team. His Maple Leafs sidekick, Jyrki Lumme, is part owner of a Finnish second division team and Svehla soon hopes to organize a game between Trencin and Lumme’s club.

“Several Swedish players are supporting some Swedish teams,” Svehla said. “And Pavol Demitra (St. Louis Blues) and (Marian) Hossa (Ottawa Senators) are also helping Dukla Trencin financially.”

Could Svehla switch NHL clubs next season if he failed to reach an agreement with the Leafs?

“A lot would depend on Toronto’s scouting results,” he said. “The management is disappointed after the loss to Philadelphia in the first round.”

The way he talked, I could tell that he would feel more comfortable in the familiar surroundings of the Air Canada Centre.

The next step will be Quinn’s. With the Canadian dollar up, the extra million, or so, to the Dukla Trencin club would help him land a solid defenceman, his family and Ludmila’s horse for another crack at the Stanley Cup.


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