Nolan, Leafs to square off

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

In a grievance case that could last three days or three weeks and cost the Maple Leafs up to $12 million US, the club will face off with Owen Nolan today in front of arbitrator James Didham in New York.

"We have spent a great deal of time and resources on this and we are definitely prepared," Toronto general manager John Ferguson said last night from New York.

Ferguson has been joined by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. general counsel Robin Brudner, as well as engaging a New York law firm. An associate counsel from the National Hockey League Players Association will be assisting Nolan and agent J.P. Barry.

At issue is a knee injury Nolan suffered in the 2003-04 season that led to surgery and three separate grievances by the player against the club.

The Leafs refused to pay his salary for the lockout year that followed, arguing that their doctors had cleared him to play, and that any setbacks he suffered were the result of working out on his own.

Barry said the first injury never was properly diagnosed by the Leafs and put the option year on the claim in September when Toronto refused to pay the 2005-06 option year of the contract.

Since the grievance process began, the Leafs have fired their medical staff, while Nolan's condition improved to the point where a contract with the San Jose Sharks was considered in early 2006.

If the Leafs have to pay some or all of the disputed amount, it would not count toward this year's salary cap. But with so much money at stake, not to mention Ferguson's reputation as GM, things could could get ugly inside the room.

"I wouldn't hazard a guess as to that nature," Ferguson said. "But the evidence will be presented for the arbitrator with the requisite candour and vigour."

Three days this week has been set aside to hear the grievance, but Ferguson warned the subsequent presentations could last into June. At any stage before or during the process, the two sides could settle.

"Never say never," Ferguson said, "but there are no reasonable prospects (of an early deal)."


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