Swede and sour

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

As the Colorado Avalanche and Peter Forsberg appear headed for divorce, teams such as the Maple Leafs are expected to be strong suitors.

In Sweden, hockey fans already are fantasizing about a Mats Sundin-Forsberg union, though there also are rumours that Forsberg and fellow unrestricted free agent and Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund will shop themselves as a package.

Forsberg's future with Colorado has been in doubt. To keep Joe Sakic and Rob Blake and restock the Avs -- Sakic and Blake were invited to a team news conference yesterday as a signal they're staying -- Forsberg would have to be sacrificed, with Alex Tanguay possibly moving to centre.

Forsberg has told friends that he prefers to stay in Denver but if that club's hefty payroll has no wiggle room under the $39-million US salary cap, he wants to go to a competitive team in a big hockey market. Cue the Blue and White bandwagon to welcome him at Union Station. The Leafs would even have jersey No. 21 ready thanks to Robert Reichel's convenient departure.

But Toronto general manager John Ferguson won't talk about Forsberg, citing NHL tampering rules, though it's interesting that he has met his agent, Don Baizley, in the past few days regarding another client, Swedish prospect Alexander Steen.

Before landing Forsberg or anyone else in the free-agent free-for-all that begins Monday, Ferguson has to iron out the Owen Nolan situation, with the expensive winger scheduled for right knee surgery today in Cleveland. Plans to buy out Nolan's $5.6-million US contract by Friday are snagged on the issue of how the knee still can be so wonky16 months after he injured it. Was it his fault or a misdiagnosis by Leaf doctors?

The cost to dump Nolan could fall between $4 million and almost $12 million as agent J.P. Barry considers a second grievance against the Leafs. Ferguson continues to thrash it out with Barry this week.

Ferguson also is trying to see if he can keep some or all of Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Tie Domi and Alex Mogilny during this week's exclusive period for all teams to haggle with their free agents.

"We've continued discussions the past couple of days," said Rick Curran, agent for Roberts and Nieuwendyk.

Curran doesn't expect another client, defenceman Tomas Kaberle, to be bought out by Ferguson this week, echoing the agents for Bryan McCabe and Ken Klee. If so, that means Ferguson is counting heavily on shedding Nolan's contract to help build their current $12 million cap space to fill about 16 spots on the roster with restricted free agents, farmhands and UFAs.


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