Sundin on his own

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

More than ever before Mats Sundin stands alone, not only as the oldest, richest and most decorated Maple Leafs forward, but as the only sure offensive player on a team clearly lacking in essentials.

It is him and no one else.

There is no real backup plan.

The Leafs can spin this any way they choose in these meaningless moments they call pre-season, but it is ever apparent that this team is a sporting sandwich devoid of scoring meat.

Sundin is a sure-thing. After that ...

Mike Peca, no youngster, is a 33-goal scorer, if you happen to combine the past three seasons.

Darcy Tucker, no youngster, was a 28-goal scorer a year ago, 18 of those coming on the power play, almost all of them set up on down-low plays by the departed Jason Allison. The previous four years, he averaged less than 18 goals.

Chad Kilger, no youngster, is coming off a career year. That means 17 goals were scored. The year before he scored three. He should be somewhere in between this season.

Jeff O'Neill, no youngster, skating on borrowed time, scored 19 goals a year ago, 14 on the power play, many of them also set up by players no longer here. Away from the extra-man situations, he was a waste of space.

Nik Antropov, forever found wanting, managed a mere 12 goals in 57 games getting blessed assignments , after scoring 13 in 62 games of blessed assignments previously.

This, by the way, is independent of the Leafs' fine youth movement -- the great plan we keep hearing about.

Alex Steen is a kid of some ability but nowhere near the ability for which he is given credit. He scored 18 goals as a rookie, most of them coming in the first half of the season. There is at least some promise with Steen: But first-line promise is probably asking too much.

Kyle Wellwood is getting a shot at the first line for two distinct reasons. One, he's a creative player with some offensive flair. Two, for the first time this century, a coach actually had a handle on what might work best with Sundin.

Fans and media have screamed for too long about finding the ideal winger for Sundin. What both have missed is that Sundin is not a natural playmaker: He creates most of his offence for himself.

He needs a winger who can make him more explosive, not the opposite. Wellwood might be that.

That is encouraging. Not much else is.

The so-called plan to go with youth that people like Richard Peddie continue to try and sell makes for wonderful jargon, especially if you have some youth. But aside from Steen and Wellwood -- and please don't tell me Matt Stajan can be an everyday NHL scorer -- there hardly is much to feel good about here.

There have been no stunning training camp developments, no emerging players taking anybody's place.

Alexander Suglobov is at least worthy of some consideration. In the pre-season, Suglobov, who passes less frequently than Eric Crouch, can do some things with the puck. He scored a goal-scorer's goal last night against the Ottawa Senators and left an impression.

The guy can play with the puck, which is nice for about 32 seconds a night. But if he's playing 15 minutes, it's what he does that other 14 1/2 minutes that has some people perplexed.

Suglobov is a tease: He is the Brandon Bochenski of this year's Leaf camp. Whether he graduates beyond training camp for more than a few days will be worth monitoring.

At least the Leafs can take some solace in the fact that they should be better in their own end this season and who knows, maybe in goal also, although that won't take much.

Even though Tomas Kaberle, the most impactful defenceman, has not played in the pre-season, he should lead a revamped group with likely additions of Ian White and Andy Wozniewski, and expensive free agents Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill.

The defence will have to be better: The so-called new NHL is all about speed and skill. And the only certainty the Leafs have in that area up front happens to be 35 years young.

ONE-WAY DEALS

The Maple Leafs could end up paying major-league dollars for minor-league Marlies players. The reason: One-way contracts that can't necessarily be moved. Both backup goalies, Mikael Tellqvist and J-S Aubin are on big league deal. So, too, is disposable forward Aleksander Suglobov. Effective managing this isn't.

BAD DECISION

Dany Heatley should have been suspended for the chop on Brendan Bell. He was reckless with his stick and a player was injured because of it. The NHL keeps preaching stick responsibility but every time it pays lip service it ends up undermining itself.

FERGIE BLOG

John Ferguson has a blog on the Leaf Nation website. In his latest entry, he tells a story of getting cut by the Canadiens and how classy it was of assistant GM, Jacques Lemaire to tell him personally. Funny, when the Leafs fired assistant coach Rick Ley and head scout Barry Trapp, Fergie didn't tell them personally. Must have forgot.


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