Goalie Vesa Toskala. (AP File/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
One year after trading for Andrew Raycroft, the Toronto Maple Leafs GM made another splash Friday, reeling in Vesa Toskala from the San Jose Sharks - by far the most attractive goalie available on the trade market this off-season.
"I heard that five minutes ago, I'm really excited," Toskala told The Canadian Press in a phone interview from his native Tampere, Finland. "I was prepared for something to happen. I had thought that Toronto was one of the places I might end up. So it wasn't a shock. . . .
"It's a big change though, coming from California to Canada, it's huge."
Forward Mark Bell also comes in the deal, in exchange for a package of draft picks: either a first-rounder this year or in 2008 (San Jose's option), a second-round pick this year and a fourth-round pick in '09.
The Leafs added some protection in case the Sharks chose the first-rounder in '08 - San Jose cannot take it if it's top 10 overall. In that case, they get an '09 first-rounder instead.
Forwards Mark Recchi and Gary Roberts, both slated to become unrestricted free agents July 1, re-signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Roberts signed a one-year deal worth US$2.5 million, while Recchi's is a one year deal that could be worth up to C$2 million with incentives.
The 30-year-old Toskala has one year remaining on a contract that pays him only US$1.375 million. Sources told The Canadian Press that Ferguson was already working on signing him to an extension.
Ferguson has been under immense pressure in his market to make a big move and he made a great one Friday. Toskala, 26-10-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .908 save percentage this past season. has long been viewed as a capable No. 1 goalie but had to share the net with Evgeni Nabokov in San Jose.
But Toskala wasn't ready to anoint himself No. 1 in Toronto out of respect to Raycroft.
"Raycroft is a good goalie, it'll be good competition," said Toskala. "I hope to see more ice time than last year, but you never know."
He's pumped about coming to a hockey-crazed market.
"I think every player in the world wants to play in Canada at one point in their careers," said Toskala. "The fans, the media, people live for hockey in that country, especially in Toronto. I'm actually very, very excited to take on that challenge."
Toronto's big move early Friday comes on the heels of a big trade late Thursday night between Chicago and Calgary, one that was made official on Friday.
The Blackhawks unloaded defenceman Adrian Aucoin and the $8 million that was left over the final two years on his contract as well as a seventh-round pick in '07 to the Flames in exchange for defencemen Andrei Zyuzin and Steve Marr.
The deal required the veteran Aucoin to waive his no-trade clause.
The Flames needed to acquire a top-four blue-liner because both Brad Stuart and Roman Hamrlik are expected to be lost to free agency.
"I'd rather have a player under contract than trying to negotiate a contract when you don't know what the marketplace is," said Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Hawks GM Dale Tallon said with the development of his young defencemen led by Brent Seabrook, there was no longer room for the veteran Aucoin to play those kinds of minutes.
"Adrian needs to play 28-30 minutes a game to be successful and that wasn't going to happen with us next season," Tallon said Friday. "And obviously there was a financial consideration in this deal."
Tallon, meanwhile, got more calls on Friday for his first overall pick.
"The best deals that came our way this morning, we said no to," said Tallon. "So we're fairly certain we're going to keep the pick."
The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, were also heavily involved in trying to land Toskala but the Leafs won out. It may have cost Toronto having to pick up Bell, who disappointed this past season in San Jose and has $4.5 million left on his deal over the next two seasons. The Leafs, it's believed, were actually in talks about acquiring Bell back at the February trade deadline but the deal never materialiazed.
The Bruins will continue to look for an upgrade in goal.
"There are a lot of goalies out there," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told reporters Friday.
It's believed Chiarelli has been in talks with the Minnesota Wild about goalie Manny Fernandez, who became expendable when Nicklas Backstrom replaced him as the No. 1 goalie and was signed to a $6.2-million, two-year extension.
Fernandez, 32, has $9.25 million left over the final two years of his contract. The Phoenix Coyotes are also on the lookout for help in goal.