T.O. or nowhere for Sundin?

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

TAMPA -- Not only does Cliff Fletcher want Mats Sundin back next season, he is striving to provide the franchise's all-time leading scorer with some help up front.

Refusing to be sour over Sundin's decision on Sunday not to waive his no-trade clause, Fletcher is looking to re-sign the Maple Leafs captain in the summer, then add some talent around Sundin in the forward ranks.

"At the level he is playing, we'd welcome him back with open arms," Fletcher said yesterday. "I want to go out and get some players, quality players, to make his job easier."

An unrestricted free agent at season's end, Sundin may have made the GM's task of re-signing him easier, as well, yesterday.

Should Sundin opt not to retire, there has been speculation he might be intrigued by the free-agent offers from more competitive teams. But judging by the way he was talking, that may not be an issue.

"I just can't see myself playing for another team," he said.

For much of his career as a Leaf, Sundin has not enjoyed the privilege of playing with elite wingers. Other than Alex Mogilny and, when healthy, Gary Roberts, Sundin's linemates -- a lengthy cast of characters ranging from Jonas Hoglund to Mikael Renberg to Jiri Tlusty -- have hardly been worthy of all-star consideration.

In the two games since he gave Fletcher the thumbs down on any kind of deal, Sundin has scored three goals and added an assist in back-to-back Toronto victories, perhaps alleviating some of the ire of certain fans who feel he should have agreed to move on in order to help the team rebuild with the prospects and picks such a trade might have fetched.

In the opinion of former captain Darryl Sittler, the public should honour Sundin's desire to remain a Leaf and, hopefully, finish his career as one. It is an opportunity Sittler wishes he had received almost three decades ago when the then-tyrannical team braintrust practically ran him out of town.

"People should respect Mats' decision," Sittler said. "It's his choice, both for his life and his career.

"He's here now. And if he ends up finishing his career here, that would be very nice."

Sittler, like Sundin, had no-trade clause in his contract with the Leafs. But after being bullied by owner Harold Ballard and general manager Punch Imlach, he finally agreed to escape the Maple Leaf asylum and was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 20, 1982.

Sittler, now a community representative with the Leafs organization, commended Fletcher for not using such strong-arm tactics in his efforts to get Sundin to waive his no-trade clause.

"At the end, I was ready to make a move," Sittler said. "I didn't feel disloyal either. Under Ballard's management I just didn't feel appreciated. Punch Imlach was adamant to break me and get me out of town.

"This time, it was totally different. Cliff dealt with the Mats situation with a lot of class."

Informed of Sittler's comments yesterday, Sundin welcomed the support.

"I didn't know Darryl had been in a similar situation with the no-trade," said the captain, whose two-goal performance against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday nudged him past former teammate Ron Francis and into 22nd place on the NHL's career goal-scoring list with 551, just five behind Boston Bruins great John Bucyk and within nine of Montreal Canadiens Hall-of-Famer Guy Lafleur.

"When you play for a team for a long time -- and I'm sure Darryl feels the same way --you want to be part of the success of the team and the city."


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