Mats still bleeds blue & white

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

All Mats Sundin wants for his 36th birthday is a win.

He doesn't care if there's no party tonight. He isn't asking for cake or candles. Considering his age, he wouldn't mind at all if the whole birthday matter went unnoticed.

And one more thing: He doesn't want a trade. Not today. Not at the deadline. Maybe not ever.

"My feeling has been, I really want to stay and be a Maple Leaf," said a surprisingly retrospective and open Sundin, standing in the middle of the dressing room at the Air Canada Centre. "You see guys go at the trade deadline...I've never had that desire to, if our team doesn't make it, that I want to go somewhere else just to have a chance to win. I haven't even thought about that.

"I know for myself personally, I want a win a championship here with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think we have as good a chance this year as the other teams around us, right up to fourth place. There's no team better than us.

"I think we all feel the urgency (to make the playoffs) ... This is my home. I'm very happy being here. I'm happy with the guys. I think we have a team here that is very passionate about he game, very passionate about the group we have here."

So Sundin is like a lot of us old people, optimistic and delusional all at the same time. His cup, not named Stanley, is forever half full. He doesn't simply believe this Leafs team will make the playoffs -- which he is all but guaranteeing by saying "we'll make it" -- he's talking playoff run.

And no, senility has not set in at the tender age of 36, blind faith has.

"It's not like it was before," Sundin said. "Where there were maybe four teams that had a chance to win the Cup at the start of the playoffs, now there are maybe 16 teams that have a legitimate chance to win. That's my only focus."

And what if the Leafs don't make the playoffs, which if you include the lockout year would mean three consecutive seasons without post-season play?

"I haven't even thought about it."

And with the trade deadline 14 days away, he's not even considering himself part of the unending rumour mill. "If the team comes to me and says they want to trade me, you have to listen to them and ask (them) why," Sundin said.

"If they come to me and say they want to do me a favour, I don't feel like (that's what I want)."

He has no interest in being a rent-a-player.

"I think winning a championship is a season-ong experience," the captain said. "I shouldn't say that, (I know) a lot of guys have won Stanley Cups just playing in the playoffs."

Just not him. The attachment to the team and the city is too personal. He doesn't just want to win here, he wants to retire as a Leaf. He doesn't say so, but he probably wants to retire with a pile of records to call his own.

He is a few good weeks away from catching Darryl Sittler for the most goals in Leafs history, a half-season away from passing Sittler for most points. With three more years -- something he's not entirely ruling out -- he can approach Borje Salming's record of 620 assists as a Leaf.

"Physically, mentally, I feel strong," said Sundin, talking about an age that often begins the decline of athletes. "Age has not been a factor for me.

"You realize you're not in the middle of the career or not at the start. I think once you get to my age, and in my case, you enjoy even more coming to the rink. You realize you're in a very fortunate position to do something you love for a very long time in your life. It's even more enjoyable right now.

"(The career) goes so fast. It's kind of tough ... But you don't really feel the age in that way ... You're still laughing at the same jokes and you're still at the same level (as a player).

"For me, I want to go out there and play at the level I'm used to playing. As long as I have fun on the ice, I'll keep playing. I've stayed away from (having a retirement target)...Mentally it's fun coming out to the rink and practicing. Those are the grinding things you do over a season. The games are easy. As long as you feel comfortable doing all that other stuff, that's the most important thing."

The time, said Sundin, like too much of his career, has passed too quickly. And don't we all feel the same when we reach certain birthdays?


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