New GM gets gift: Svehla ends saga, calls it a career
'No real desire to return to NHL'
Like the climax of a dramatic motion picture, the saga of Robert Svehla and the Toronto Maple Leafs took a number of chaotic turns before suddenly wrapping up yesterday morning.
Only moments after gleefully stating that the Leafs were determined to entice Svehla back into the fold, the defenceman's agent, Rich Winter, made the solemn announcement that his client had intended to submit voluntary retirement papers. The about-face resulted from an unexpected telephone exchange with Toronto GM John Ferguson, who informed Winter of Svehla's decision after consulting briefly with the eight-year National Hockey League veteran.
"Robert spoke to John and made the final call," Winter said. "It all happened very quickly."
Added Svehla, moments later: "I didn't want to be rude to the new manager. It was time to inform the Leafs of my plans."
As of last night, there was no hard evidence that Svehla had indeed submitted his papers -- neither the Leafs nor the NHL are obliged to make that information public -- but a league GM asserted that if the defenceman suddenly reversed his stance, the Leafs could file a grievance and win easily.
"Once a player makes on-the-record statements to the media the way Robert did, he is virtually bound to his stance," said the general manager.
Having tendered Svehla a US$4-million qualifying offer to protect their asset, the Leafs spent the summer contending they had no wiggle room in their budget to pursue roster enhancements, though they did manage to unearth US$2-million to spend on veteran defenceman Bryan Marchment.
With Svehla waffling, veteran Glen Wesley having chosen to return to Carolina, and the revelation this week that Bryan McCabe is hobbled by a knee injury, the Toronto blue line is in dire straits. There have been talks with free agent Ken Klee this week, and Leaf assistant GM Mike Penny has often hinted about the possibility of a trade.
"The money tied up in Robert Svehla has been a point of contention in every discussion we've had with the Leafs this summer," said Anton Thun, the agent for Klee. "We felt we were making progress towards a deal late last week, but that all changed very suddenly [on Wednesday]. Now that there appears to be money available, we'll be interested in seeing if Ken is truly in their plans."
Klee said that Svehla's retirement gives him hope. "If they have that situation resolved, it's a plus, though I still haven't received a contract offer. Toronto is a place I'd like to play, and I'm waiting for a call."
Free-agent forward Joe Nieuwendyk doesn't expect the same call.
"I don't anticipate [going to the Leafs]," said Nieuwendyk, who had talked about being reunited with former Calgary teammate Gary Roberts. "It was an option that I hoped would materialize, but with Bryan McCabe injured, they've indicated their priority rests with their blue line. So, I have to do what's best for me and move on."
Nieuwendyk is negotiating with two of his former teams -- Dallas and New Jersey.
Svehla insisted he made his decision to retire in April, after the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs, but Winter encouraged him to hold off on a formal announcement.
"I gave the Leafs four days after the playoffs to try and sign me [to a contract extension], and when that didn't happen, I made the decision to retire," Svehla said from his home in Trenchin, Slovakia. "My family is happy and smiling every day with me here. The kids are going to school and are happy, too. I have two jobs here and no real desire to return to the NHL."