PITTSBURGH -- Mats Sundin has opened the door to his departure from the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And among those waiting for that door to be shut tight are the soon-to-be Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, and the Montreal Canadiens.
Sundin, who became a centre of controversy when he refused to waive the no-trade clause in his contract with the Leafs because of his apparent loyalty to the franchise, suddenly does not appear to be oh so loyal.
After accepting the Mark Messier Leadership Award yesterday at a Stanley Cup luncheon, Sundin maintained he has not made a decision about whether to play next year, but did not rule out playing outside of Toronto, and in doing so clearly placed the onus on the Maple Leafs to keep him with the franchise.
"I don't have everything in my control," said Sundin, talking about the Toronto situation. "This has to be mutual."
Sundin did say the Leafs "have to show they really want me to come back."
And as with everything Maple Leafs these days, there is some slight confusion. Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher has told people he will meet with Sundin next week to outline plans the Leafs have for the team's future and the player's future.
The problem is, Fletcher's schedule and Sundin's schedule appear to be in conflict.
Sundin plans to return to Sweden on Sunday, which would prevent him from meeting with Fletcher next week. Fletcher is on his way to Pittsburgh for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final. Sundin, in Pittsburgh yesterday to pick up the Messier Award -- his first NHL award -- is heading back to Toronto before leaving for his home in Sweden.
Sundin said he had no scheduled plans to meet with Fletcher in the coming days.
But what seems clear is that Sundin has a departure plan for leaving the Leafs without necessarily playing the part of bad guy. By saying the Leafs have to show "they really want me back," what Sundin is basically saying is he wants free-agent market money to return to the Leafs. And with a rebuilding team that won't be competitive next season, it may not be in the Leafs' best interest to pay in the $8-plus-million range for their aging captain.
When asked if he could see himself wearing another uniform -- a stance he has objected to in the past with sincerity -- Sundin said he "didn't know ... I do think I have different options I can explore."
Sundin also has said he wants to know who is in charge and what plans are in place for the future before returning to Toronto.
All that needs to be addressed before the free agency date of July 1, but it's pretty clear that Fletcher still will be the general manager on that date, the Leafs likely will not have a coach by then, and may have less of a roster then, via buyouts, than they currently have.
In other words, it may not be in the Leafs' or in Sundin's best interest for him to re-sign in Toronto.
Meanwhile, the level of curiosity in Sundin in the open market already is immense. Already, the Red Wings and Canadiens quietly have expressed interest and have the salary cap space necessary to make the deal. The Wings may be close to winning the Stanley Cup this year but they don't appear to be satisfied by winning just one Cup.
With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on one line and the possibility of Sundin and Johan Franzen on another line, it is easy to see why the Wings so covet the Leafs captain.
The interest in Montreal was apparent prior to the trade deadline, when the Habs offered up winger Christopher Higgins, another prospect and a bevy of draft choices to try to pry Sundin from the Leafs. Fletcher would have accepted that trade.
Now should Sundin leave on July 1, the Leafs will get nothing in return for him.
Funny, what attracted Messier to Sundin this season was how he waded his way through a difficult and controversial season in Toronto. Messier, with the help of a few friends, picks the winner of the award in his name.
"This year," said Messier, "was one of his most defining moments as captain and as leader."
And it will get even more defining should Sundin choose to wear a uniform other than that of the Leafs next season.