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Veteran centre Jason Allison ready for a return to NHL after one-year absence

And he's coming back to the NHL.

"I'm physically and mentally as healthy as I've been in five years," Allison told The Canadian Press in an interview on Friday. "I'm excited and ready to go."

The 32-year-old free-agent centre disappeared into the NHL wilderness last year, taking a season off while ironing out issues in his private life.

"I had a lot of personal stuff to deal with last year - just getting my life re-organized and dealing with family issues," said Allison, who went through a divorce. "It's been a good year for me, even though I didn't play hockey and people were wondering where I was or what I was doing . . .

"It was important for me to just get feeling good about life."

In all honesty, Allison hadn't planned on taking the whole year off but also went into free agency last summer with very limited options.

"I was planning on playing and then to be honest, I was kind of hoping to go to a few certain teams to be close to my (two) kids and that didn't work out," said Allison, who lives north of Toronto. "So I kind of just decided to take the year off and get my stuff organized and get my head in the right place."

He was mending to Jason Allison the human being last year, not Jason Allison the hockey player.

"Unfortunately sometimes you're seen as a piece of meat instead of a person," said Allison. "If anyone in a different kind of circle of life went through the physical and emotional and uncertainties of life that I went through in the short period of time . . ."

He stopped his thought.

Allison hopes to get another chance in the NHL. He points his body of work - 485 points in 552 career regular-season games - as evidence that he can help out a team.

"I felt like I've always been a bit of an underrated guy," said Allison, who last played for the Maple Leafs in 2005-06. "If you look at my stats year by year, there has not been a year where I haven't been around a point a game. Not too many guys over a 7-8 year period that have been that consistent and put up those kinds of numbers."

Perhaps Allison is where some NHL clubs will need to look to after all the biggest catches leave the free-agent waters starting Sunday at noon ET. Once the likes of Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Michael Nylander sign rich new contracts, Allison will still be available.

"I think I'm probably the lowest-risk guy out there," said Allison. "I'll be on a one-year deal for a lot less money than anybody who can score a point a game and yet I've done it my whole career.

"I take pride in how consistent I've been in my career."

Will anyone come calling? While he did collect 60 points in 66 games with Toronto in 2005-06, critics pointed to his slow skating as a nullifying factor.

But he thinks he can help.

"The way I see it, the price range I'll come in at, there's not a guy on the market with the upside I have nor the consistent career," argued Allison. "For me, I think I'd be a great pick-up for a team at the kind of money."



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