Dark days lie ahead for Leafs

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

The reverberations of Mats Sundin's refusal to be traded will be felt by the Maple Leafs long after Sundin's career is over.

That isn't his doing. It is, however, a direct result of his personal decision.

He claims loyalty -- and asks for the same -- but how are Leafs fans to remain loyal if they truly examine the big picture and realize what might have been?

How can they not resent the opportunities lost by Sundin's personal decision?

By refusing to allow the Leafs to trade him, Sundin has in differing ways affected a) the search for the Leafs' next general manager; b) affected the remainder of this season and the club's draft position; c) affected the Leafs' immediate and long-term future with the potential riches available never to have been identified.

And none of it necessarily in a positive way.

Sundin may have 18 games left as a Maple Leaf after a wondrous time in Toronto. The rest remains in doubt. Sundin may, as some suggest, retire. He may wind up playing for another NHL team. He may turn into a part-time player a la Teemu Selanne or Scott Niedermayer. And he may, although unlikely, end up re-signing in Toronto.

The sad and emotional aspect of the attempt to move Sundin was that it never really was about Sundin. He was a victim of both circumstance and his own immense talent. He was the sacrificial captain. He could bring more value than anyone else on the roster. He couldn't change this team on the ice but he had an opportunity to be part of change for the future.

Instead, he opted for status quo -- and just how far this man of loyalty and dignity will set back his beloved hockey team is anyone's guess. It was a terrible position to put him in, and his apparent loyalty will injure his favourite team longterm.

That's not open to interpretation. That is fact.

So now, the Leafs search for a new president and general manager without a roster cleared of significant salary, without a collection of prospects and draft picks, without -- barring Cliff Fletcher pulling a rabbit out of his hat today -- much of anything to build on for the future. Might that alter someone's interest in running the Leafs?

How much success would Bryan Colangelo have had as general manager of the Raptors had Wayne Embry not cleared the deck for him with the trading of Jalen Rose?

Fletcher has a day to play the part of Embry. Time and options are running out.

This is a bad hockey club with a good goaltender and not much else. The first-round pick, which should be a lottery choice, could end up a whole lot worse with Paul Maurice coaching for his future and Sundin possibly playing his last games as a Leaf. Winning now is the worst thing the Leafs could do.

If they don't have a lottery draft pick -- and remember, John Ferguson traded the second-round pick in the brilliant deal for Yanic Perreault at the previous deadline -- the Leafs position heading toward June will indeed be curious. And the roster situation remains murky as well.

Outside of Tomas Kaberle and possibly Nik Antropov there is not a first-line player on the club. There isn't much of second-line variety either. Then there are a bunch of dime-a-dozen NHL players, too many being paid a whole lot more than a dime.

What do you do with Mark Bell, set to earn $2.5 million US next year, except waive him or buy him out? What do you do with Alexei Ponikarovsky, who is being paid second-line money, but hasn't proven to be that kind of player?

What do you do with Jason Blake, who is in the first year of a five-year deal that pays him to age 39, or Darcy Tucker, who is being paid for what he did yesterday instead of what he can do tomorrow? The roster is filled with questions, just not answers.

Even the kids like Jiri Tlusty and Anton Stralman, the apparent future, have not looked the part of impact player.

And where does the next Sundin come from?

It didn't come from trading Sundin.

That clearly was not his concern or even part of his job description. He wouldn't allow himself to be a rental, never believed in the concept, he said.

That's his story. Funny, don't remember him saying anything like that when the Leafs picked up Brian Leetch four years ago at the deadline.

Don't remember him objecting at all.


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