Gilmour's been there, felt that

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Doug Gilmour was about as blunt as a cross-check to the head.

Sitting at the head table alongside Mats Sundin in a steamy room stuffed with reporters at the Royal York Hotel, the former Maple Leafs captain yesterday urged outsiders to stop speculating on Sundin's future and leave the big Swede alone.

"It's up to Mats. Other than that, it's his business and no one else's," Gilmour said. "(The general public) doesn't know what he is going through."

Gilmour does.

At the end of the 2001 season, having just played out his contract with the Buffalo Sabres, he contemplated retirement. After a summer of indecision, he finally signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

"I understand what Mats is feeling because I've been there," said Gilmour, now an assistant coach with the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies. "It's a hard decision and it's as much a mental process as it is a physical one.

"When I left Buffalo, I said I might shut it down. I eventually did come back (with the Habs) but that was seven games into the season."

Should Sundin eventually opt not to return to the Leafs, Gilmour came up with a novel idea.

"I'm part of management so, of course, we want him back here," Gilmour said, glancing over at Sundin. "Hey, Mats, how about coming to play for the Marlies?"

That's not going to happen.

Nor does a return to the Leafs seem at the top of Sundin's priority list, if you read between the lines.

Make no mistake. He loves the city and the fans. At this point, as he repeated for the umpteenth time yesterday, he doesn't even know if he will play professional hockey again.

Yet, listening to Sundin speak, you could not help but sense the frustration and disappointment in his voice at the struggles the Leafs have endured the past few seasons.

"I felt great last season," said Sundin, squinting as a flurry of flash bulbs lit up the room. "But all that disappears when you have a losing season and don't play in the playoffs.

"This is the best hockey town in the world. Right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs might not be that great, but the city and the fans are.

"I've had 13 chances to win the Cup as a Leaf and have come up short. Still, I have no doubt the Leafs will win a Cup ... I just can't tell you when.

"Whatever happens, the Toronto Maple Leafs will always be in my heart."

For the most part, Sundin said all the same things: He hasn't made a decision. Don't expect one prior to the opening of the regular season. And, until he realizes he wants to play, he will not consider any offers.

Sundin and Gilmour will be at the Air Canada Centre tonight joining 30 celebrities like Curtis Joseph, Sean Avery, Joe Thornton and actor Tim Robbins who will skate in the inaugural Festival Cup charity hockey game.


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