BOSTON -- There's no evidence to support the theory that the rebuilding Maple Leafs have yet to name a captain because they are waiting for the return of Mats Sundin.
But the fact that the big Swede was back in Toronto this week for a physical before ramping up his training regimen at least raises the possibility.
And while the 37-year-old free agent still has multiple suitors for his services, the Leafs have said all along they will welcome back their long-time leader.
"I think that's great, he's definitely got some years left in him," Leafs centre Matt Stajan, one of the young players who learned a lot from Sundin, said following yesterday's morning skate at the TD Banknorth Garden.
"You watch him play last year and he's still at the top of his game. We'll see what happens, but having a physical is going to lead to something. We'll see how it plays out."
As recently as a week ago, Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, said he is of the belief that Sundin will return, albeit on his own timetable.
"I have said all along, I personally believe that Mats will play in the NHL this season," Barry told Sun Media. "From experience, I know the look of the eyes of a player who is retiring. That's not what I see with Mats."
Next up for Sundin, apparently, is a trip to California, where he is reportedly planning to begin his training for a likely return to the NHL. It is expected it would take three to four weeks for Sundin to work himself into game shape.
Where he will end up is the multi-million dollar question.
The Leafs say they have had no contact with Sundin since his visit to Toronto for a charity game in early September.
Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher is sticking with his stance that: "If Mats wants to end his career with the Maple Leafs, we will welcome him back with open arms."
But if Sundin wants to go to a contender, it is more likely that he will look elsewhere.
The Vancouver Canucks were one of the top suitors in the summer when the team's new general manager, Mike Gillis, offered a two-year $20-million US deal. Gillis told TSN yesterday that the offer still stands.
"We're really going to put our best foot forward when the time comes and he indicates that he's ready to play," said Gillis, who likely would amend that offer to a one-year deal if that's what it takes to get Sundin.
The Canucks' need for a dominant centre has increased with the nagging rib injury to Pavol Demitra.
Others with varying degrees of interest include the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning.