The Toronto Maple Leafs landed a big fish late Wednesday, trading for Owen Nolan of the San Jose Sharks.

Nolan, the 31-year-old captain of the Sharks, was acquired for Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes and a first-round draft pick.

"This was a difficult deal to make since we gave up good, young, quality players and quality people," Maple Leafs general manager and head coach Pat Quinn said. "But we feel Owen Nolan is a special player."

"It's obviously a big deal," added Bill Watters, Quinn's assistant.

Nolan is a rugged 6-foot-1, 215 pound right winger considered among the most respected and productive power forwards in the NHL.

A Canadian citizen born in Belfast, Ireland, he has 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points with 91 penalty minutes in 61 games this season -- his eighth with San Jose.

Nolan has 12 goals and 19 points over his past 19 outings, despite nursing a bruised back.

"Our goal is to strengthen our team for the playoffs," Watters said. "We've done it at forward.

"And now we're going to try to do it on defence. That's our next goal."

Conversely, San Jose is 11 points removed from the playoff picture with 17 games remaining.

"Our performance this season, among other variables, was a factor in this decision," Sharks GM Dean Lombardi said.

Another likely variable was Nolan's salary, which had simply become too rich for the Sharks blood.

He is earning $5.5 million US this season and guaranteed $6.5 million US in each of the next two.

"When your team struggles throughout the season, you know something is going to happen," Nolan said. "I was anticipating something very much."

Nolan has 323 goals and 675 points with 1,474 penalty minutes in 836 games over 13 NHL seasons since being drafted first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1990.

He spent five seasons with Quebec before the franchise re-located to Denver as the Colorado Avalanche.

Nolan played all of nine games for the Avalanche, only to be shipped to San Jose for Sandis Ozolinsh on Oct. 26, 1995.

He is the Sharks all-time leader in goals (206), assists (245), points (451) and power-play goals (75).

"Owen Nolan was a major part of this franchise during his time here and certainly was a huge part of our progress over the last six years," Lombardi said.

Last year, Nolan was one of the so-called Elite Eight players selected to Team Canada, which captured the gold medal at the Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.

In McCauley, the Sharks received a defensively-responsible centre with offensive ability.

The 25-year-old native of Brockville, Ont. has six goals and 15 points with 16 penalty minutes in 64 games this season.

McCauley was drafted 79th overall by New Jersey in 1995, but never signed with the Devils.

Instead, he was traded to Toronto, along with Jason Smith and Steve Sullivan, for Doug Gilmour, Dave Ellett and a third-round pick on Feb. 25, 1997.

Boyes, 20, was considered by many Toronto's top prospect.

Drafted 24th overall in 2000, the crafty centre currently leads the St. John's Maple Leafs with 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) in 65 games as an AHL rookie.

"Both McCauley, who is a proven NHL player, and Boyes, one of the top prospects in hockey, will help maintain our competitive level of play while improving our team as we move forward," Lombardi said.