Leafs captain for sale

JOE WARMINGTON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

Who wants Mats Sundin?

And how much are they willing to give up to get him? Stay tuned, because that's what it all comes down to now. Didn't you hear Cliff Fletcher articulate all of that yesterday when he was introduced as interim general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Well, you would have had to read between the lines. But actually it was much clearer than that.

What was really being said is our captain is for sale, so please send in your best offer! The message was loud and clear. Make no mistake, trading the captain is his primary job here and the frenzy had already started as MLSE boss Richard Peddie introduced the member of the Hockey Hall of Fame to the Toronto media circus.

"He's going to Vancouver," said one guy close to the team.

"Philadelphia," said another.

"Detroit is the logical place," was yet another suggestion.

"Maybe he's going to tell them to go to hell and play out the rest of his contract and retire," said one former player who knows him well.

And there's the problem for Fletcher. Sundin holds all the cards. He has a no-trade clause and has publicly indicated he's not interested in leaving.

Of course he is. Of course he wants an opportunity at getting his name on a Stanley Cup. I mean, how much more money does he need? A Cup is all he's missing.

Fletcher will finesse this whole thing. The Silver Fox is the master. The draft picks and young prospects Sundin could bring back is one of the few cards Fletcher has to play with. The game of poker started yesterday afternoon.

"We want to do what is best for Mats," Fletcher said yesterday.

Sure, Cliff. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The best for Mats, eh?

What about what's best for the Maple Leafs? It seems it's up to Sundin whether they get to use him as an asset and this is a territory that will have to be treaded upon lightly.

"Mats is driving the engine here," Fletcher told reporters. "He has a no-trade clause and he is a free agent at the end of the season!"

Translation: Fletcher and Sundin will have each others' cellphone numbers and together they'll determine where he goes. But he's going!

Unless they decide to re-sign him for next year, there's no way Fletcher is going to let the all-time Leaf scoring leader just walk without getting some assets in return. Don't forget this is Cliff Fletcher here -- the very guy who traded captain Wendel Clark in 1994 to get Sundin. He'll come up with something.

And fans are already wondering who'll be Fletcher's next Sundin? Who's his next Gilmour? Where will he find his next diamond in the rough?

They say trading is tougher in today's game. We'll see. Remember this is Trader Cliff we're talking about. Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Tomas Kaberle are all valuable players he can deal to get future stars and once again help build the dream.

The fans were stoked. They have been hankering for a change at the Hangar and this public hanging has been talked about for weeks.

"He'll be better than John Ferguson Jr.," said Joey Lyons, who was waiting outside the ACC hoping to welcome Fletcher home.

Construction workers Justin Ward and Tom Henry had nothing against the fired Ferguson, but are tired of not making the playoffs.

"I want to see a Stanley Cup," Henry said. "The last time we won, my mom Ruth was actually in the crowd. I want to see one too."

There's some work to do but Fletcher is the right guy. His success here in the past helps him and he'll be able to talk turkey with the next person to take on the GM's role.

There was a sense of relief down at the Hangar last night. Even Larry Tanenbaum and Peddie were joking around and play fighting -- a mock mocking of the media, suggesting they're not always pals.

The truth is those guys, as well as the dreaded teacher's pension fund and people like Bob Bertram and James Leach, want a Stanley Cup parade as much as any other fan. Interesting how Peddie indicated that the position to be filled will be both president and GM of the Leafs, and he, Fletcher and top-notch sports lawyer Gord Kirke will work together to hire that person.

The president's title means Peddie will be handing over the hockey reins.

"I really hope it's Brian Burke," said fan Shelley Drummond, who works in the parking lot on Bay St. across from the ACC. "He's definitely the best candidate."

He's also under contract to the Anaheim Ducks! Other names thrown around include Ken Holland, David Poile and Scotty Bowman.

Leaf fans are hoping whoever it is, it will result in this long-suffering Nation getting a shot at the Stanley Cup. Of course they have been hoping for that for four decades.

Hiring Fletcher is at least a start. And getting some young talent for the future for a 37-year-old Sundin is the long-suffering hockey club's first move.


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