Mats done, but is he done?

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 12:14 PM ET

During a conversation with one of his close friends Monday, Mats Sundin relayed the message that he was "done" for the season.

Does that mean the long-time Toronto captain is "done" as a Maple Leaf as well?

Sundin told his buddy that an MRI conducted earlier Monday revealed season-ending evidence concerning the tear in his groin, meaning he would miss home games against the Buffalo Sabres last night and the Ottawa Senators tomorrow before the Leafs close the curtain on a depressing 2007-08 season in Montreal Saturday night against the Canadiens.

To no one's surprise, the Leafs, while acknowledging the captain had suffered a setback, would not completely confirm he is shutting things down. Why would they? This is an organization that often hides the nature of their injuries far better than, say, U.S. governors hide the identities of their curvy concubines in swank Washington hotels.

"(Mats) came back to practice (Monday) and we had the expectation he would feel considerably better and he didn't, so he's not playing," coach Paul Maurice said after the Leafs' morning skate. "If he doesn't feel better, he won't play the rest of the games."

No, he won't.

Of course, when Maurice was asked to comment on Sundin's outstanding season, one that ranks among the finest of his 14-year tenure in Toronto, the Maple Leafs bench boss scoffed at the idea that the big Swede's time in blue and white was over.

"There's going to come a point in time, in six or seven years, when Mats retires," Maurice said. "Then you're going to spend the next 20 years with parades, tributes, Mats Sundin nights, the ashtrays, the coffee cups, matchbooks ...

"We'll let that all happen."

When he retires in six or seven years? Nice try Paul. April fools on you too.

By passing on the message that he was "done," Sundin was making reference to his season. Yet the fact remains, there is a legitimate chance Sundin simply will retire from the NHL this summer, his 37-year-old body suffering from the rigours of an illustrious career that one day will land him in the Hall of Fame.

If he does opt to go in that direction, it would be a shame that his final shift as a Leaf took place so anonymously. Surely no one shoehorned into the Air Canada Centre Saturday night identified a Sundin rush late in the third period of Toronto's 4-2 victory over the Canadiens as being his last appearance in a Leafs uniform.

But that very well could be the case.

Sundin opted for a short-term, one-year, $5.5-million US deal last summer, turning down a two-year pact in order to give himself the luxury of re-evaluating his future this off-season.

Even if he does decide to come back, would the Leafs want him? Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher certainly does, but that does not necessarily mean the incoming president/GM will share the same view.

With Sundin's future in doubt, debate raged through the city yesterday concerning the nature of the legacy he will leave behind when and if he does hang up the blades.

Despite the fact he is the all-time franchise leader in goals (420) and points (987), the naysayers wag an accusing finger at the captain for never being able to lead the Leafs to a Stanley Cup championship, let alone a Cup final. The deepest playoff runs he made as a Leaf came in 1999 and 2002 when Toronto lost to the Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes respectively, in the Eastern Conference final.

Yet slagging Sundin simply for his team's shortcomings in the post-season is a crock. Other than brief stints with the flashy Alex Mogilny and the injury-plagued Gary Roberts, Sundin never was provided with the elite-level wingers many other star NHL centres have enjoyed over the years.

LACK OF WINGERS

Senators forward Jason Spezza, for example, grew up in Mississauga watching Sundin play for the Leafs on TV. Years later, in the early stages of his own NHL career, Spezza regularly has enjoyed playing with better wingers -- Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson -- than Sundin ever did in blue and white.

With 78 points in 74 games, Sundin this season showed the hockey world he can still compete with the best. His handlers figure his ability to continue playing at such a high level might influence him to return to the NHL next season.

If he doesn't, there undoubtedly will be critics who are glad to see the end of the Sundin Era. But remember this, oh ye of little faith: Often times, you never really appreciate someone until he's gone.

And last time we checked, there were not many perennial 80-points-per-season men going around.


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