Leafs duo ready for anything

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Ken Klee and Tomas Kaberle are not about to suck up to the Maple Leafs brass.

It's no secret that both players love being in Toronto and wish to remain on the the Leaf blue line. Both are quick to tell you that.

But if the decision is made by John Ferguson and his braintrust to buy out either defenceman, if not both, there will be no temper tantrums, stomping of feet or pleading at Larry Tanenbaum's doorstep to reverse the decision.

"Obviously you want to be somewhere where you are wanted," Klee said yesterday. "If a (buyout) is the way they want to go, then you are better off being somewhere else where they want your services.

"My first choice is to stay here but it's out of my hands."

The prospect of a buyout has been swirling through the mind of Kaberle, who broke into the NHL with the Leafs in 1998.

"I've thought about it," he said. "They'll do what's best for the team. We'll see.

"I want to stay here sure, but the NHL is a business. If something happens and I don't return, it's part of the game."

Klee and Kaberle are among the eight players the Leafs have under contract for 2005-06 at a total of $27 million US.

Klee is slated to earn $1.9 million and Kaberle $2.28 million after absorbing the 24% across-the-board rollback that is part of the proposed collective bargaining agreement being voted on by the players today.

With big ticket free agent defencemen such as Scott Niedermayer and Adam Foote available on the open market, Ferguson might opt to free up space under the $39 million cap by cutting ties with Klee and/or Kaberle. Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Bryan MacCabe, Ed Belfour, Matt Stajan and Darcy Tucker are the other Leafs under contract.

Teams can buy out players for two-thirds of their contract from Saturday until July 29 at 5 p.m.

Saturday also marks the beginning of a nine-day window in which teams can negotiate exclusively with their own free agents. Among those who fall under that category are forwards Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, both represented by veteran player agent Rick Curran.

"One of my first calls Saturday will be to John to see if there is any interest in Gary, Joe or Bryan (Marchment)," Curran said. "They want to stay. This has been their first choice the past few years so why would they want to leave?

"At the same time I know there is interest out there (on the open market). I'll know from July 23-29 if there is interest from (Toronto). That's the time period we're focussing on."


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