John Ferguson knows it was a frustrating year for Mats Sundin, but doesn't expect his captain is about to give No. 13 to Marlies numerical understudy Bates Battaglia.
Ferguson, the Leafs' general manager, shrugged off various reports the past few days that Sundin's sale of his Forest Hill home is linked to dissatisfaction with the direction of the Leafs, specifically management and ownership, and that he might retire from the NHL.
The GM insisted there was regular communication with Sundin up to the latter's return to Sweden earlier this month, and he expects Sundin back for the last year of his contract.
"Including our sit-down at the end of the season, I have spoken to Mats on numerous occasions," Ferguson said yesterday, though he refused to divulge if player personnel was a topic. "Leaving aside the speculation about his real estate transactions -- this is a great market to be making those in -- I've received nothing to doubt he is our leader and that he will be back playing for us as he did down the stretch.
"He had (23 points in his last 13 games) and showed he can dominate -- and will dominate -- under the new rules."
New Leafs coach Paul Maurice no doubt envisions the 35-year-old Sundin running the offensive show in his first year behind the bench.
More ice time was a bone of contention between Sundin and former-coach Pat Quinn, though the captain proved his point by ramping up point production as his shifts increased down the stretch.
"In my own history, Rod Brind'Amour must have led the league in ice time for four or five straight years," Maurice said of his Carolina Hurricanes workhorse. "Your best players have to play. You treat everyone fairly, but you can't possibly treat everyone equally, or we'd all be trying to buy (Sundin's) house.
"Those players carry the pressure of being exceptional. You (in the media) all let him know when he is not."