The clock is ticking

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

Outside of signing 2003 draft pick John Mitchell by last night's deadline, the Maple Leafs appear to be saving some of their big roster decisions for today.

By 5 p.m., all National Hockey League teams must decide on player buyouts, though with the exception of Owen Nolan, the Leafs don't seem to be headed that way on any of their other seven contracted players.

The league is likely to grant the Leafs a dispensation in Nolan's case, so that his $3.3 million US buyout (two thirds of his 2005-06 salary) will not count against their $39 million cap.

Nolan underwent right knee surgery on Tuesday amid a battle with the Leafs regarding the origins of the injury. A grievance procedure could see him re-coup the past two years' salary, almost $12 million, but for the purposes of this year's team, the Leafs are moving on.

DECISION IS MADE

"I've made my decision on Owen," general manager John Ferguson said, though he won't reveal it until today.

The other Leafs under contract are Mats Sundin, Ed Belfour, Bryan McCabe, Ken Klee, Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker and Matt Stajan. None are expected to be bought out.

There remains debate about Ferguson re-signing unrestricted free agents Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Tie Domi, Brian Leetch and Alex Mogilny during this exclusive period for clubs to settle such matters. J.P. Barry, the agent for Mogilny and Nolan, says Mogilny is skating every day in a remote region of eastern Russia and looking forward to returning somewhere in the NHL after surgery. Ferguson has had only general discussions with Leetch, who would prefer to play closer to his old team in New York.

The other three are more likely candidates to return, but at drastically reduced salaries. Talks with the trio are ongoing, but league-wide free agent shopping begins Monday.

Oakville native Mitchell signed a multi-year entry level contract. The forward played 63 games for Plymouth of the Ontario Hockey League last season with 75 points and appeared in two late regular-season games for the Baby Leafs.


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