Fletcher faces tough task

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Bringing Mats Sundin to Toronto 14 years ago was quite a feat for Cliff Fletcher.

Getting the big Swede to leave town next month might be his most difficult task yet.

As he attempts to revamp the Maple Leafs roster, Fletcher realizes that Sundin is his most sought-after commodity on the open market, one that stands to bring in the best return via trade. If the Leafs are to rebuild, as seems to be the mandate, Sundin would easily net the most lucrative package of draft picks, prospects and young players this franchise so desperately lacks and needs.

But convincing Sundin to waive his no-trade clause as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches, well, that will be much easier said than done.

"I don't think I choose to talk about that (with Mats) right now other than to say Mats has been here since 1994," Fletcher said yesterday. "He'll go down as one of the greatest Leafs in history.

"The most important thing is to do what's right for Mats."

Sundin, for the record, is not swaying from his season-long stance of wanting to remain a Leaf, no matter what the media and public feel.

"I haven't changed my mind on that," Sundin said. "I haven't even thought about it."

Hypothetically speaking, what would happen if Fletcher did approach him with a trade offer a month from now?

"We'll have to wait and see," said Sundin, who is on a one-year, $5.5-million US deal. "I haven't talked to Cliff yet but nothing has changed in terms of my own decision. My only focus is getting this team into the playoffs."

One common theory making the rounds the past few months is this: Sundin waives his no-trade clause; is shipped to a contender; then, as an unrestricted free agent, re-signs with the Leafs when the market opens on July 1.

That scenario raises a couple of interesting questions.

First off, if the search committee of Richard Peddie and Gordon Kirke finds a suitable candidate to run the Leafs by the beginning of free agency, what guarantee is there that the incoming head honcho will consider Sundin to be a needed cog in the team's future plans? What if a youth movement is the agreed path the franchise opts to explore?

Secondly, will Sundin want to play beyond 2007-08? While he is enjoying a resurgent season on the stats sheet at age 36, sources close to him insist the veteran forward will take a long, hard look at the possibility of retirement during the off-season.

"I said last summer I'm only taking it one year at a time," Sundin said. "That's why I signed just a one-year contract."

According to J.P. Barry, Sundin's long-time North American-based representative, the big Swede is growing tired about constantly answering the same old questions concerning the possibility of agreeing to be shipped out.

"In all the frenzy recently, the media isn't listening to what Mats is saying about his intentions," Barry told TSN. "He has never talked to me, not even once, about the possibility of playing for another team and I don't expect that to change.

"His approach to anything other than succeeding as a Leaf is, we will cross that bridge when we come to it," the agent added.

Sundin, meanwhile, said the Leafs players must accept a share of the blame for the firing yesterday of John Ferguson, the man who gave Sundin the one-year deal with the no-trade clause.

"We haven't lived up to expectations," he said.

It was Fletcher who authored the deal that landed Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a first-round pick from the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a first-rounder on June 28, 1994.

Getting the green light to trade Sundin away will be that much harder.


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