Ottawa Citizen

Tucker raises market value

Darcy Tucker, currently in the final year of his contract with the Maple Leafs, was aggravatin­g enough to play against before he introduced offence to his game, reports ALLEN PANZERI.

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DTORONTO arcy Tucker is the perfect player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s as much to dislike about him as there is about Toronto. He’s a nuisance, irritating, dirty, abrasive, provoking and sanctimoni­ous.

But here’s the thing: Raise your hand if you wouldn’t have him on your team. Thought so. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t take Darcy Tucker, which sums up rather neatly the little dance that’s going on now between Tucker and the Maple Leafs.

With his $ 1.6- million U. S. contract expiring this year, the Leafs would like to get Tucker’s name on a long- term deal. They tried last summer, after he had a career season of 28 goals and 31 assists, but could never work out a contract.

Now they’re at it again. Tucker’s agent, Carlos Sosa, arrived here yesterday to begin at least informal talks with Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr.

It’s complicate­d. Tucker and his family like Toronto, and he could easily get a new contract with the organizati­on for around $ 3 million a year.

If, for example, the Leafs are paying defenceman Hal Gill $ 2.5 million, and if comparable players such as Dallas’ leftwinger Brendan Morrow is worth $ 4.1 million a year, then Tucker surely must be worth between $ 3 million and $ 3.5 million to the Leafs.

But what would Tucker be worth on the open market?

If he decides to test the free agent waters on July 1, he could be in for the biggest payday of his career, especially if his fast start is a sign of things to come.

Going into last night’s game, his seven goals and three as- sists made him Toronto’s leading scorer.

Tucker has mostly taken a vow of silence on the talks between Sosa and Ferguson. He was peppered with questions yesterday, but stickhandl­ed around them.

While agreeing that his worth on the open market “ has to enter into it,” he said he’s trying to concentrat­e on playing hockey and won’t get involved in negotiatio­ns until he has to make a decision.

“ This should be a fun time for me,” he said. “ Not something that I should take as stressful.”

If Tucker has made himself a more valuable player because of a new- found ability to score goals, he has the lockout of two years ago to thank.

He used the time to think about his career, and set out to change the impression of Cana- dian hockey fans who see him as a grinder. Instead, they should think of him as a goalscorer.

“ Actually, I think that should be their first impression of me,” he said. “ I didn’t score 64 goals ( and 73 assists) in my last year of junior, or be named rookie of the year in the American Hockey League ( with 29 goals and 64 assists) just by chance.” No, he didn’t. But when he was drafted by Montreal in the sixth round, 151st overall, in 1993, he did whatever he had to do to stay. That meant being a grinder and doing the grunt work that coaches love.

“ Your first priority is to make the NHL, but maybe when you start playing a certain way, you believe you always have to play that way,” Tucker said.

“ During the lockout, I thought, ‘ Why can’t I go back to doing the things that got me drafted and made me a success as a junior?’

“ There was no reason I couldn’t do those things here.”

It was the perfect time to try, too, with the NHL determined to showcase the skills of its players.

“ The new rules helped me become a better player,” he said. “ I’m not the biggest of players, and under the old clutch- and- grab game, when I got caught, I couldn’t get away. I’ve got a little more time and space now.”

He has been a nice surprise for Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice, who, like most Canadians, also disliked Tucker. It’s an old grudge: Tucker’s Kamloops Blazers beat the Mauricecoa­ched Detroit Jr. Red Wings 8- 2 in the 1995 Memorial Cup final.

“ You know, I used to hate that guy,” Maurice said yesterday.

“ And that goes all the way back to the Kamloops Blazers and the Detroit Jr. Red Wings. No, not a lot of love for that guy.

“ He’s not a guy you particular­ly like to coach against, but he did have terrific numbers in junior.

“ I think Darcy got to the point where he thought he had to be passer, which he can do, but he can also put the puck in the net.

“ He has got a shot, and we’re encouragin­g him to use it.”

Now 31, Tucker is happy he has moved his career to another stage.

“ As you get older and mature, sometimes you realize that things didn’t go exactly the right way with the approach you took,” he said. “ That’s why I’m enjoying the approach I’m taking now. It’s a little maturity.”

 ?? DAVE ABEL, GETTY IMAGES ?? Darcy Tucker, known in the past as a grinder, has decided to go back to the style of play that made him a scoring force in junior hockey.
DAVE ABEL, GETTY IMAGES Darcy Tucker, known in the past as a grinder, has decided to go back to the style of play that made him a scoring force in junior hockey.

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