Maple Leafs ready

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

For the first time in almost a year, a Saturday at the Air Canada Centre could be filled with plenty of hockey action.

Only this time, you'll have to look in the Maple Leaf offices to find it, not down on the ice.

Should both owners and players ratify the proposed CBA as expected in the next few days, the Leafs, like the other 29 NHL clubs, will officially open for business July 23. That signifies the start of a six-day period in which teams can buy out players and a nine-day window to negotiate exclusively with their own unrestricted free agents.

Leafs general manager John Ferguson admitted that some transactions could already be completed by Saturday night.

"I would not be surprised," Ferguson said last night. "We could get something done (on Saturday). Everything is more compacted in terms of time this year. "

PREDICTIONS

Many are predicting the Leafs will have completed the buyout of Owen Nolan's contract by the time you have taken that first sip of java Saturday morning.

But what of goalie Ed Belfour and his $3.9 million US salary?

Ferguson could decide to gobble up the remainder of The Eagle's contract and turn his sights to someone like former Leaf Curtis Joseph. But Ferguson recently said he was "happy" with Belfour, who is coming off back surgery.

"I know Ed is very much looking forward to another strong season with the Leafs," Ron Salcer, Belfour's agent, said yesterday. "The long layoff has allowed his body to heal, and he is stronger and more determined than ever. It's nice that John has confidence in him."

The Leafs will have a tough decision concerning Ken Klee, who is scheduled to make $1.9 million this season. And free agents Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts and Tie Domi can begin negotiations with other teams if they haven't signed by Aug. 1.

Also on the agenda beginning Saturday is the task of getting any unsigned 2003 draft picks under contract by July 28. The Leafs are in the process of evaluating John Mitchell and Shaun Landolt, the two players who fall into that category.

More than 200 players will take part in a two-day session with NHL Players' Association boss Bob Goodenow and the executive committee in Toronto before a vote is taken tomorrow. But given the fact that the NHLPA already has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow evening -- one with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance -- all signs point to a successful ratification.

"You can't say it 100% until you get a look at it, but I've pretty much decided which way I'm going to vote," Ottawa Senators forward Mike Fisher told the Ottawa Sun. "I want to get back to playing hockey. I've had enough of this crap."


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