Fletcher sets deadline

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher is prepared to wait for Mats Sundin no longer than this weekend before the divorce is final and he makes free agent spending plans without the Maple Leafs' franchise scoring leader.

While the betting is that Sundin will go elsewhere this season, the general manager has kept the door open a crack, even after granting the Montreal Canadiens exclusive rights to try and work a deal prior to unrestricted free agency starting Tuesday. The Leafs will keep something along the lines of a one-year, $7-million US no-trade deal in the drawer, though the growing feeling is that Sundin will out-wait the Leafs and Habs and go to the highest bidder in July.

Sundin told Swedish reporters yesterday that he hadn't yet made his mind up, regarding retirement, a Habs deal or coming back here. Montreal general manager Bob Gainey hoped to speak to Sundin yesterday, though reports of him flying to Sweden are premature. But Gainey wants to acquire a big centre somewhere and will quickly look elsewhere if Sundin drags his feet. Toronto's window to shop elsewhere also is small.

"(The uncertainty) would be an issue for us and it would become a bigger issue at 12:01 on Tuesday," Fletcher said. "I anticipate we'll have dialogue with Mats on the weekend. If we had 48 hours, that's fine, but it's Mats' call.

"We're ready to proceed in any case when the gong goes off (Tuesday). After that, it would be very difficult to sit around waiting for Mats."

The Leafs did tie up some business ends yesterday, completing Darcy Tucker's two-thirds contract buyout, also cutting ties with Kyle Wellwood, who was claimed on waivers by the Vancouver Canucks, while goalie Andrew Raycroft cleared.

Fletcher said he would take the next two days to decide if he'd put Raycroft on unconditional waivers with the aim of buying out his $2.2 million US deal or play him somewhere in the organization next year. Fletcher said there was another goaltending option he was examining, which could mean watching what other clubs are doing with spare goalies, such as Marc Denis and Curtis Joseph.

Though no doubt upset about having to play away from his adopted city, Tucker declined comment to Sun Media's Mike Zeisberger yesterday, only saying "it is what it is."

Carlos Sosa, Tucker's agent, wryly noted his client won't suffer financially, getting $1 million a season the next six years.

"We'll take our $9 million one-year deal ($3 million last year and the buyout) and look elsewhere," Sosa chortled on the Fan 590.


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