Agent feels Klee in clear

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

Ken Klee can probably rest easy as the Maple Leafs examine their buyout options this week, but the Owen Nolan flap continues to cloud general manager John Ferguson's thinking.

Klee, due to make $1.9 million US this season, is among four of eight Leafs under contract for next year who are a possibility to be let go at two-thirds of their salary as Ferguson seeks to create more room under a $39-million National Hockey League salary cap.

"I don't expect Ken will be bought out," his agent Anton Thun said yesterday. "I've discussed it with John in the past. There is always the chance something can happen that changes John's situation (with the payroll), but there has been nothing to report (since all club buyouts were authorized on Saturday) and I don't expect anything to happen."

Nolan, of course, is a much more touchy subject. Though the wealthy Leafs probably could clear this up with a chequebook and the stroke of a pen, don't expect them to pay millions to Nolan without vigorously defending their position on the sidelined winger.

Ferguson continues talking to Nolan's agent, J.P. Barry, but does not seem ready to use his team's deep financial resources to curtail what is shaping up as an ugly dispute.

Nolan is scheduled for knee surgery tomorrow in Cleveland with Dr. Tony Miniacci as the two sides argue how much his condition relates to an on-ice injury from March of 2004.

Barry says the Leafs' medical staff misdiagnosed Nolan's knee. The Leafs contend he was cleared to play last autumn and thus paid him just a small portion of his full $6.5-million salary due injured players in the lockout year. Two Leafs doctors have since been let go by Ferguson.

Barry filed a grievance seeking the total amount for last year and, since injured players can't be bought out for two-thirds, he would likely follow suit and seek the full $5.6 million this year, if Ferguson goes ahead and tries to pay off Nolan.

Reminded yesterday that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., could afford to eat the entire Nolan contract of almost $12 million to put the matter to rest, Ferguson continued to sound defiant.

"We are well aware of our rights and obligations and we'll handle it," he said.

Ferguson has until Friday night to decide on buying out Nolan. He had no comment on yesterday's discussions with Barry on a possible compromise. Barry did not return a call.

Nolan is the second-highest Leaf under contract for next year behind captain Mats Sundin ($6.84 million) and ahead of goaltender Ed Belfour ($4.56 million). Defenceman Bryan McCabe is at $3.45 million, but the second-team NHL all-star might be needed along with Klee and Tomas Kaberle ($2.28 million) unless the Leafs are sure of landing the likes of free-agent defencemen Chris Pronger, Sergei Gonchar, Adam Foote or Scott Niedermayer.

The Leafs have a total of $27,066,647 now committed to 2005-06 salaries. All NHL teams can begin pursuing unrestricted free agents a week today.


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