After completing his daily ritual of telling the media circus he does not want to leave Toronto, Mats Sundin had almost disappeared into the Maple Leafs dressing room at Lakeshore Lions Arena when one final question was lobbed his way:
"Hey Mats, did you hear Daniel Alfredsson said he would enjoy playing on a line with you with the Ottawa Senators?"
Amused at the comment coming from Alfredsson, the Leafs captain momentarily stopped in his tracks.
"Why wouldn't he?" Sundin said with a laugh.
Why wouldn't anyone, for that matter?
Just moments before, the Maple Leafs captain, in what many perceived as his strongest anti-trade stance to date, said he welcomed a serious chat with interim general manager Cliff Fletcher "but it won't change my position."
This will be the way it goes until the Feb. 26 trade deadline has come and gone. There will be rumours about interested teams. Sundin will insist he is not going anywhere. And we in the media will lap it up, sensationalize it, and wonder, like the general public, if Trader Cliff somehow can change the captain's mind.
On one hand, there is no reason to doubt Sundin when he insinuates that his no-trade clause will not be waived.
On the other, anything can happen in a league that once saw the great Wayne Gretzky traded out of Edmonton.
Why not just let the issue die? Because, as Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford points out, the demand for marquee names will go through the roof by late February.
"I think the price and the return for top players will be higher than it's ever been," Rutherford explained yesterday from Carolina. "First off, there likely have never been this many teams packed so closely in the standings, many of whom feel one top guy can put them over the top. And, secondly, there simply aren't that many top players who will be available, so the bidding for those who are should just keep going up."
Names like Marian Hossa, Olli Jokinen, Brian Campbell and Alex Tanguay also are being tossed around as possible trade fodder throughout the league, but Sundin would be the gem of the bunch. Hossa is younger, sure, but has a disturbing history of disappearing a la Jimmy Hoffa come playoff time.
While players such as Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake are growing weary of being peppered with questions concerning possible trades, Sundin seems to be having fun with the notion of being asked about it every day.
"Beautiful," he said with a wry grin. "That's part of the deal. When your team is in the position we are in, that comes with the territory. That doesn't bother me."
Nor does the fact that players such as Alfredsson publicly have started lobbying for his services.
"(Sundin) has a no-trade clause and he could decide his own destination," Alfredsson told Sun Media this past weekend. "He'd probably pick one of the better teams and we're up there."
"We've even talked about it (in the dressing room)," Alfredsson added.
As Sundin pointed out: Why wouldn't they?