Mats a Leaf for life?

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. (SUN/Alex Urosevic)

Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. (SUN/Alex Urosevic)

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

When Mats Sundin eluded the media horde on the opening day of Maple Leafs training camp Thursday, speculation immediately sprouted that their captain wanted out.

If he did, it was likely to go grab some lunch.

As far as any notions go about the veteran Swede wanting out of Toronto, however, he insists nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Sundin made it clear yesterday that he would like to remain a Leaf for life.

"If it's up to me, I do want to stay a Maple Leaf for the rest of my career,"Sundin told reporters at the Ricoh Coliseum yesterday.

By making such a definitive statement, maybe Sundin hopes to finally squelch all the scuttlebutt concerning his alleged desire to seek greener NHL pastures.

From the moment the Leafs cleaned out their lockers at the Air Canada Centre last April, rumours started springing up suggesting Sundin was looking for a fresh start in a new environment.

In Toronto, word that his Forest Hill home was on the market had more than a few tongues wagging to that end.

In his native Sweden, meanwhile, teammate Mikael Tellqvist was hearing innuendo throughout the summer that the Leafs were attempting to trade Sundin.

For the record, Sundin is still a Leaf. And that's how he hopes it will stay, even if the club is fading from the playoff picture come the trade deadline in February.

In other words, there will be no requests from him to be shipped to a contender, no matter where the Leafs are in the standings.

"If the organization wants to move you, you have no real choice," Sundin said. "(But) I don't have a desire to go anywhere else just to try to be part of a championship team. I think we have just as good of a chance to be a championship team as anyone else at the start of this year.

"I can't see myself trying to go to a competitor at the end of the season to have a chance to (win a title). I think any of the eight teams (in the East) that make the playoffs have a chance nowadays to play in the final."

Sundin is in the final season of a six-year contract, one that will pay him $7.6 million US for 2006-07. The Leafs hold a $4.6 million option for '07-08.

"Without getting into the specifics of negotiations, Mats is our top player, our leader,"general manager John Ferguson said last night. "It was only the first day of (on-ice) workouts but his fitness level and level of play out there demonstrates his great leadership.

"He is a critical component of our club and should be for some time."

Nevertheless, questions continue to swirl around the 35-year-old.

For example, who will his wingers be? He played well between Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov last season but coach Paul Maurice plans to do a lot of experimenting in the next three weeks before deciding on permanent linemates for the slick centre.

Then there were the queries as to why he missed his customary audience with the media on Thursday, the official first day of camp. The company line was that reporters were gathered in another part of the building for a Maurice press conference at same time Sundin emerged from his session on the stationary bike to speak.

Normally a front-and-centre guy when it comes to addressing the press during the season, maybe Sundin should have known better instead of just leaving.

But there was no escaping the notepads and microphones yesterday, especially after he and his teammates had completed a gruelling workout that was a far cry from the Pat Quinn era.

"The veteran guys who have been here a few years, we are going to have to get used to practising harder and with higher intensity," Sundin said. "It probably will help us win some games."


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