Yes, rebuilding works

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

For those of us who have dealt on a regular basis with Mats Sundin during his illustrious tenure as a Maple Leaf, the captain's candid criticism of his team Saturday night was a rare sight, indeed.

And a telling one.

As outbursts go, this one was mild. He didn't scream. He didn't name names. And he didn't demand a trade.

No matter. By implying that his team repeatedly makes ill-timed mistakes late in games, his frustrations still were on display for all to see.

Sundin isn't giving up on the season. Nor are the Leafs, who have lost eight of their past 10. In the minds of both Sundin and management, the 13th-place Leafs are still in the hunt for a post-season berth in the Eastern Conference shoebox, trailing sixth-place Boston by just six points.

But if the team's downward spiral continues, both sides must consider a trade by the deadline late next month.

The debate once again has become a sexy topic around town, with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd., president Richard Peddie stating last week that such a concept, if found to be a realistic one, would go before the board.

With a no-trade clause in his one-year deal, Sundin insists he wants to remain in Toronto. But if the Leafs get to the point where a playoff spot is a long shot at best, the logical move would be to waive it.

In his role as a rent-a-player for another team, Sundin could receive a shot at the Stanley Cup title he longs for. If he still wanted to play another season in Toronto, he could sign back with the Leafs when unrestricted free agency opens on July 1.

In the process, he would bring some assets to an organization that needs upgrades in both talent and top-end prospects.

According to one Eastern Conference general manager, there will be a huge seller's market as the trade deadline approaches because "so many teams feel they have a legitimate shot to win it all. There should be far more buyers than sellers."

Imagine, in such an environment, how much the Leafs could land for Sundin, a guy who is the all-time leading scorer for his team and who, at 36, has reached 20 goals for the 17th consecutive season.

A similar scenario is already paying off for the Philadelphia Flyers. With his team needing an overhaul 11 months ago, GM Paul Holmgren shipped star forward Peter Forsberg to the Nashville Predators for forward Scottie Upshall, defenceman Ryan Parent, a first-round pick and a third-round pick. Then, in June, Holmgren gave Nashville back its first-round selection in exchange for the rights to pending unrestricted free agents Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, whom he quickly inked to long-term deals before they reached the open market.

The result? Combined with some solid earlier drafting, a trade for goalie Martin Biron and the signing of free agent Daniel Briere, the Flyers have jumped from worst team in the NHL to eighth in the East and own a bright future.

Could the Leafs follow a similar blueprint? Would they? There are obstacles.

GM John Ferguson, who is in a no-win situation without the contract extension he coveted last summer, pretty much needs to make the playoffs if he wants to keep his job. Trading Sundin might be good for the team's future but not necessarily his own short-term one.

At the same time, Sundin has been steadfast in his desire to stay. But with his frustration mushrooming, maybe he will be willing to move off that stance. If the losing continues, it would be the best move for all concerned.


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