February 24, 2008
Mats remains true BlueUnder immense pressure to decide if he'll agree to a trade, Sundin continues to produce
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN
As Mats Sundin waved his stick at the cheering crowd upon being announced as the game's third star last night, the thought that this might be the final time he would step on to the Air Canada Centre ice in a Maple Leafs uniform never entered his mind.
"Actually, it didn't," the captain said just minutes after his Maple Leafs had defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 3-1.
"I keep saying I don't want to go anywhere. As it stands, nothing has changed."
Is that official? Can we finally put this seemingly-endless Sundin circus to bed?
Those answers are expected to come sometime today or, at the latest, tomorrow, according to Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, and Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher, who will meet in Ottawa today.
For weeks now, the debate has raged as to whether the Leafs captain should waive his no-trade clause and allow the organization to rebuild with the lucrative package of draft picks and prospects that likely would come back in return.
At first glance, the never-ending number of questions concerning his future seemed to be taking its toll on him. In reality, the reason he looks fatigued and has dropped 10 pounds can be traced to his recent battle with strep throat.
Even in his weakened state, he does not sound like a man who is going anywhere.
Should the captain opt to waive the clause and eventually be shipped out by the trade deadline Tuesday, it will mark the first time in 23 years that a Maple Leafs roster will not include either Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour or Sundin, three of the most popular players to tug a blue-and-white Toronto jersey over their chests.
Talk about a faceless franchise.
And if last night did, in fact, mark Sundin's final home game in a Leafs jersey, he certainly went out in style.
With signs like "Stay with us Mats" sprinkled throughout the Air Canada Centre, Sundin potted his 25th goal of the season on the power play at 3:33 of the second period. The goal tied him with Michel Goulet for 23rd on the career list with 548, just one behind Hall of Famer Ronnie Francis.
One of many special memories from a place he really does not want to leave.
"I know it's a business," said Sundin, admitting he has been asked to waive the clause by Fletcher. "I know we've missed the playoffs the past two years and could do the same this year ... but I have to do what feels right in my heart.
"I can't go to another team if I don't want to be with another team. I wouldn't be true to myself. That just wouldn't feel right for me. I've never believed in being a rent-a-player to start with. I've always thought that if you want to win a Stanley Cup you should be there from training camp in order to really feel a part of the team."
Sundin, 37, admits his stance may have been different earlier in his younger days.
"If I was 27 or 28 I probably would have gone somewhere right away (under these circumstances)," he said.
"But at the point in my career where I am right now, I'm not even sure if I'm going to play next season. I'll have to think about my future over the summer.
"Right now, I can't commit to anyone the way I feel."
Asked if he would be in the Maple Leafs lineup against the Florida Panthers Wednesday -- a day after the trade deadline -- Sundin replied: "I hope so."
Barry, who was in Pittsburgh on business yesterday, was not surprised when informed of Sundin's stance.
"He still hasn't decided," Barry said.
"This is a very difficult decision for Mats. You hear what he said and what he's thinking.
"He's going to take more time and possibly decide by the end of the weekend."
A number of Sundin's friends claim there is no way he is going to leave the Maple Leafs. Listening to Sundin's words yesterday, the odds seem to be in favour of that scenario.
Whatever he opts to do, Toronto hockey fans should be thanking Mats Sundin for all the wonderful memories he has provided instead of ripping him for his eventual decision. He is, at least, owed that much.