Who would replace Mats?

Mats Sundin speaks during a press conference.  (Sun Media)

Mats Sundin speaks during a press conference. (Sun Media)

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher sounded like a general manager about to lose his team captain.

"Who knows?" the Maple Leafs boss said last night, as a 48-hour countdown to unrestricted free agency began.

Fletcher said today's anticipated decision by Sundin to at least tell the Leafs if they're out of the picture is no longer a certainty.

He remains in contact with Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, but the latter has not been getting anything concrete from Sundin, either.

While Fletcher is not ruling out Sundin deciding his fate after July 1, once he becomes available to the National Hockey League at large at midnight Tuesday, the Leafs will likely have already spent their free-agent dollars elsewhere.

Sundin would get an estimated $7-million US, one-year no-trade contract here, and while some would urge Fletcher to cut the cord (yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of Fletcher acquiring Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques), the GM would still have to find a No. 1 centre somewhere.

The Montreal Canadiens, the only team granted exclusive rights to Sundin until Tuesday, would also be out of luck, though GM Bob Gainey is likely putting the heat on this weekend and piling up the phone bills to Stockholm.

Depending on which of his friends you believe, Sundin is not really enamoured with the supposed frontrunners, Montreal and Detroit, would consider the New York Rangers or Florida Panthers, but is also having trouble coming to grips with a final divorce from the Leafs.

Fletcher does not want to talk about Sundin's successor as captain until it's clear he's not returning to Toronto, but it's going to be a favourite guessing game of Maple Leafs' fans between July and opening night in October.

The Leafs will consider starting 2008-09 without anyone wearing the C, especially with two alternates, Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker, no longer in the team's plans.

Tomas Kaberle would be the lone remaining alternate and while he's a great player, it's doubtful he has the off-ice persona to handle the job successfully.

'MIGHT LEAVE IT OPEN'

The Leafs could bring in a free agent worthy of the position, rotate the captaincy monthly as teams such as the Minnesota Wild do, designate an alternate each night or just keep it vacant as happened in the late 1980s under Harold Ballard's ownership.

"We might just leave it open, but I don't want to say anything while the situation with Mats is still fluid," Fletcher said.

Fletcher backed off predicting the Leafs will land a big-name player as soon as Tuesday's shopping opens up.

"It's the cover of a new book and no one knows how it's going to read," he said. "We have a plan, but we might not be able to do anything the first day."


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