GM Ferguson will fight Nolan case

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson is confident that his team will win the dispute with forward Owen Nolan.

As is usually the case, Ferguson was guarded, saying, "I'm not going to address details specifically of matters that are ongoing."

However, he also said on three separate occasions that he felt the Leafs could "reserve our rights" on the Nolan issue.

The Leafs want to buy out Nolan's contract, which has one year left at $5.6 million US. It is their view that to do so, they would have to give him two-thirds of that amount, approximately $3.8 million.

Under the terms on the new collective bargaining agreement, they have to exercise the buyout provision by Friday at 5 p.m.

Nolan has a different view on the matter.

First of all, he says that he is injured and needs another knee operation, even though he was cleared by Leafs doctors -- two of whom have since been fired --last year.

Nolan disputes the Leafs' medical evaluation and says that since injured players continue to earn their salaries, the Leafs owe him his salary from last season, $6.5 million, as well as the full salary from this season since he doesn't qualify for a buyout.

His reasoning for that last view is that under the CBA, injured players cannot be bought out. The Leafs would, therefore, have to wait until Nolan is healthy again, but in his view, that won't be before the Friday deadline.

After that time, the salary of every player on the roster -- which would include Nolan -- counts toward the $39-million salary cap.

Ferguson says he's confident that the Leafs will eventually persevere, but he says, "We don't expect this to be solved quickly."

He also said that there are "ongoing issues," and added, "I don't expect a quick answer."

It would appear that Ferguson feels that he can go ahead with his plan and make the buyout before Friday so that Nolan's salary will no longer count against the cap. He realizes that the matter will then be grieved by Nolan and the NHL Players' Association

He apparently believes he will be allowed to progress as if the Nolan buyout were uncontested until the matter goes before an arbitrator, and he appears to be assuming he will win the case.

"I've received the requisite direction that I need to make an informed decision at the appropriate time," he said. "Is it solved as we speak? No."

As to when it will be solved, Ferguson said, "There were grievances heard this year dating back to 2001."

So perhaps that's the strategy. Play a full season with a team that does not have to include Nolan's salary in its capped roster. After that, the Leafs can't be made to replay the season.

Ferguson said there are provisions in the CBA that allow exceptions for long-term injured players.

And that's true. A team is allowed to insert a lower-salaried player without having that player's salary counting against the cap. But the higher salary -- the injured player -- continues to be counted.

The Leafs find themselves embroiled in the first major dispute concerning cap provisions, with the matter coming to the fore moments after the CBA had been ratified by the governors. But it won't be the last.

Finally, after being pressed, Ferguson summed up his position.

"He was out of touch for seven months after being cleared," he said of Nolan. "We've been made aware he is currently injured."

It was clearly not a diagnosis that he shared.


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