Waiting for free-agent doors to open

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

John Ferguson graduated from law school after finishing his playing career, so it is relatively safe to assume he is prepared for the arduous task that awaits this weekend.

Ferguson and the other 29 general managers of National Hockey League clubs will convene in New York, where they will get their first extensive look at the new collective bargaining agreement. NHL executive vice-president and chief legal officer Bill Daly will take the GMs on a guided tour of the CBA, which should be ratified in the latter stages of next week.

"We'll learn as much as we can in a short time," Ferguson, the Maple Leafs GM, said of having a crack what's thought to be a document in excess of 600 pages. "I'm looking forward to it. The expectation is that it will be a crash course."

Not only will Ferguson and his colleagues get their hands on the CBA, but they probably will have a concrete idea as to when the free agency period begins. Many involved in the game figure the gates to free agents will swing open no later than Aug. 1. Before then, there will be a window for teams to buy out players and tender qualifying offers. The Leafs almost definitely will say goodbye to Owen Nolan at two-thirds of his $5.6-million US contract.

One player who could find himself in a Leafs uniform is free agent Glen Murray, who had 32 goals and 60 points in 81 games for the Boston Bruins in 2003-04. Murray made $3.85 million that season and the Leafs did have talks with his agent, Anton Thun, last summer. But clubs can't formally talk with free agents now until the CBA is ratified.

ON THE BUTTON

"I'm sure Glen would love to play in Toronto, but I've had no (recent) conversations with John Ferguson," Thun said. "Until recently, we've not had any insight into what the system will hold."

One person Ferguson has been talking with regarding a greater role within the organization, though not at the expense of another employee, is Craig Button. The former Calgary Flames GM was hired as a pro scout last September but he has plenty of experience in the drafting and development of players.

"I'm not worried about titles," Button said. "I'm worried about being a part of a team. The people I work with, the organization, and being able to apply myself with my skills are important. All of those have been satisfied for me here."

Not only will the NHL hold its draft lottery when the CBA is ratified, if it has not done so before then, it will release the 2005-06 regular-season schedule. Tentatively, the Leafs are scheduled to open at home on Oct. 5 against the Ottawa Senators, but that could change. If they do begin on that Wednesday night, it's probable training camps would start on or around the weekend of Sept. 10-11.

Also, though it was reported yesterday the NHL Players' Association will hold its meeting and ratification vote on Tuesday and Wednesday next week, the meeting and vote actually are going to be held Wednesday and Thursday at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto.

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ON THE AGENDA

- TODAY-MONDAY: NHL general managers gather in New York for a crash course on the new collective bargaining agreement.

- WEDNESDAY-THURSDAY: Players meet in Toronto to discuss and vote on ratification of CBA.

- THURSDAY: Owners meet in New York to vote on ratification of CBA. Lottery held for entry draft.

- JULY 30: Entry draft held in Ottawa.

- AUG. 1: This is the date believed by most to be the latest possible start for free agency signings.

- SEPT. 8-11: Possible start for training camps.

- OCT. 5: Possible start to regular season.

Note: There also will be a window for clubs to buy out players, probably beginning not long after the CBA is ratified and lasting not more than a week or 10 days. All dates subject to change.


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