Sundin stands by his men

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

ANAHEIM -- Wendel Clark would love for Mats Sundin to win a Stanley Cup, in Toronto or anywhere else.

But as a traded Maple Leafs captain, who searched in vain for the elusive ring with five other NHL teams, Clark understands why Sundin isn't jumping at the chance to waive his no-trade clause.

"The grass isn't always greener somewhere else," Clark said yesterday. "You just can't go and pick a winner. The only guy I ever knew who did was Ray Bourque after all those years with the Bruins and that took him two years to win with Colorado. And where does he live and work now? Boston."

Clark, a Leafs community ambassador and about to open a new restaurant in Vaughan, was traded for Sundin in 1994. He played in 39 playoff games for the Leafs in his final two years here, 12 more in two return visits, but just 16 games total in his flings with the Quebec Nordiques, Detroit Red Wings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders.

"Mats has played 13 years here, still does everything for the team," Clark said. "Now he has got the control (the no-trade). There's no right or wrong decision and I'll support whatever he does. But with the salary cap and so many variables, even a team that is top five right now in points would be hard to predict (as a Cup winner)."

The soon-to-be 37-year-old Sundin yesterday expressed those same reservations, in one of his longest media addresses as a Leaf. In the noisy lobby of a suburban California arena, with curious locals and autograph hounds in the same scrum as the media, he tried to explain just what binds him to a team that shows little hope of winning a Cup before he retires, probably before he turns 40 in 2010-11.

"I don't think I've wasted my time here," he said. "I'm sure there are other good places to play in the league, but I like it in Toronto.

"I enjoy the group. I enjoy coming to the rink.

"I'm sure it's the same thing with the guys here in Anaheim. Part of the reason (it's so meaningful to win a Cup) is you enjoy going through the whole year."

By the same token, he won't be signing any more multi-year deals with the Leafs. He chose one season at $5.5 million US and instead of slowing down as many predicted he would, he's on pace for 40 goals and thus made himself the potential star of the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

"I told my agent (J.P. Barry) that we'll take it a year at a time," Sundin said. "I have no hidden agenda about where I want to play. Look at (ex-Quebec teammate) Joe Sakic, who signs year to year. For me. it adds a carrot, puts pressure on you to perform."

Sundin repeated that he's not doing the Leafs a disservice by hanging on to his no-trade clause and blocking potential deals for draft picks and prospects. He and general manager John Ferguson are touchy about declaring this year a writeoff, with half a season to go and nine points separating 12 teams before last night.

"I think we have as much talent to be a playoff team as some of those in front of us," Sundin said. "But there's room for improvement."


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