A Cup or a cap

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Mats Sundin was commenting on his new haircut yesterday.

"I'm running out of options," he said as he ran his hand over the nubs.

Yes, yes he is.

That's the overlay on a Maple Leafs off-season that began with the signing of Jeff O'Neill, extended into the deal to ink Jason Allison and hit the red zone with Eric Lindros.

Two vets with thick medical files or, in the case of O'Neill, a spotty performance record, have been added to Sundin's charge.

There are only so many chances, three or four on the outside for Sundin to make himself King for Life here.

By that, and only that reckoning, he is zero for 10 years as a Leaf. He is also, on most nights, his team's best player, the emotional centrepoint and the finest performer most of us will ever see in a Leafs uniform. Two more 30-goal seasons and he will stand as the team's greatest goal scorer.

After a year-long lockout-induced hiatus from the spotlight, Sundin insists is ready to be better than ever.

"A year, let me see, where do you start?" Sundin said of his 12 months away. "I'm not married, let's start with that.

"I went to Sweden for Christmas. Nothing exciting. Trying to work out and stay in shape."

The good news is, Sundin didn't look like a guy ready for the moniker Fats Sundin. The Leafs underworld has been abuzz with the notion that Sundin was eating his way across several continents.

On the dark side of the ledger, his biceps looked about as big as mine.

He insists he needed the break.

"I've been going non-stop for 15 years," he said. "It was a great opportunity for me to heal my body both physically and mentally, prepare for this season and hopefully extend my own career."

It is about that now for Sundin, once one of the league's bright young stars, now, increasingly, one of its most long-standing ones.

He has never said or done the wrong thing, never embarrassed his team. He has played through hideous facial injuries as well as through scores we cannot see.

And like every star, the closer he comes to the horizon, the more he wants to stay.

"You just try to enjoy it and cherish every chance to play at this level," he said. "As you grow older, as your career goes along, you learn to appreciate it, too."

TWO YEARS, PLUS

Sundin wants two years, the term of his contract, and then some and if the NHL truly orchestrates an accent on skills with its new rule changes, he might get more still.

"It's going to be good for everybody," Sundin said of the rule changes, "whether you like physical hockey or a lot of scoring or a higher-paced game."

Sundin said he is excited to play with Lindros and Allison, players who will suddenly give the Leafs the biggest and potentially most talented trio of centres they have ever had.

"With guys coming home and playing on home ice, it's special, and you can tell," Sundin said.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to Jeff but I've talked to Jason and Eric and they're very excited to get this season going. I think they're going to have a great season."

Sundin doesn't care who plays where.

"Both Eric and Jason are used to playing a lot. The best thing is we're always going to have a strong centre on the ice."

Soon, of course, Sundin's production will recede as dramatically as his hairline. Not now, perhaps, but soon.

"In terms of being mentally excited about the season and physically, feeling healthy and ready to play hockey, I feel as good as I've ever felt," he said.

He will be 36 when his contract expires and someday he will be the Ray Bourque, the Dave Andreychuk, the player whose only remaining lack, a Stanley Cup, will be one of the focuses of a playoff drive.

Mats Sundin hopes it happens here. He is not alone.


Videos

Photos