Trade Mats, now

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

The Leafs Nation is proud, boisterous and defiant beyond words.

It hasn't been subjected to a legitimate crisis in some time. But the difficulties it currently faces possess the potential to blossom into a full-blown freefall.

As the trade deadline and playoffs steadily approach, the Leafs continue to flail, with different factions each approaching a crossroads. John Ferguson Jr. remains a GM in a precarious position who requires immediate success in order to retain his job.

The team itself portrays an unstable core defence, a veteran goaltender being hung out to dry and a patchwork offence incapable of providing the assistance required to string together multiple wins. It's understandable why Leafs fans are displaying less bravado than usual.

The Eastern Conference is not to be trifled with, especially when a single point could be the difference between golfing in April and hoisting the Stanley Cup in June.

Drastic actions are called for in situations like these. JFJ needs to do the taboo. He must trade Mats Sundin.

Sundin possesses the unofficial title of franchise player for Toronto. He is the face of the Leafs, similar to Daniel Alfredsson for the Senators, and indeed Joe Thornton, during his time with the Bruins.

The trading of Thornton created a massive uproar among the Bruins faithful, with fans stating that they would never purchase season tickets again.

But the Leafs are an aberration of the norm -- the teams iced by Toronto in the '80s provide evidence of that. If one person was to tear up his season tickets, there would be 10 waiting to replace him.

Leaf fans seethe, fume and complain. Constantly. But they always support their team. It's easy to assume they would continue to do so, with or without Sundin in the lineup.

And whether the Leafs organization or its fans want to admit it, the time to rebuild is obviously nigh. Sundin is in his 11th year with Toronto and has skated alongside teammates that possessed the swagger and skill of potential champions. This year's squad does not fall into that category.

Have you viewed the Leafs' website lately? The roster lists a total of six players as wingers. All other forwards are displayed as centres.

Undoubtedly this is some sort of creative spin, suggesting that the team possesses unknown versatility. Reality paints a different picture.

How successful can Sundin truly be when Darcy Tucker and Jeff O'Neill are sometimes chosen to flank him? Where else in the league are players like Alex Steen or Matt Stajan considered first-line wingers?

Sundin has maintained nearly a point-per-game average in spite of this. It bodes well in the grand scheme of things, if Ferguson were to pull off a swap. The GM currently is walking a tightrope -- it stands to reason his job would be in jeopardy unless there was a dramatic turnaround that took the Leafs deep into the playoffs.

As the trade deadline approaches, there will be many a team in search of a top-flight centre.

Sundin has the credibility, feistiness and decent leadership skills that play into a trade's favour. The Toronto captain may be revered by the Leaf faithful, but it serves little purpose to retain the strongest player if they are ultimately weakening the team.

Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle should be salvaged. The nurturing of top goaltending prospects Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask must continue. And right now, the potential of all Leafs players must be questioned, in order for this team to move forward.

The decision to rebuild is never an easy one, but the Leafs need to seriously consider beginning the process if they wish to eventually contend for the Stanley Cup. They are missing many pieces of the puzzle and may have to trade their most cherished piece away.

'JAGT UP: Has anyone seen the infamous Mike Vanderjagt commercial since he shanked that kick in the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game? You know, the one where he says, "I make a lot of kicks, but they only remember the big ones?" For his sake, I hope TSN proved sympathetic enough to pull it.

MUMBLE JUMBLE: Can we please do away with referees announcing various penalties? No one can understand what any of them, particularly Chris Lee, is saying. If the official is looking for a second job, he should apply as a Toronto subway stop announcer.

ERIN NICKS IS AN OTTAWA-BASED FREELANCE COLUMNIST. CONTACT HER AT ERINNICKS@YAHOO.CA


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