Leafs, Sundin split has mutual benefits

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:33 PM ET

At training camp, coach Ron Wilson suggested his Maple Leafs might be better off without captain Mats Sundin.

"If the general leadership group was as good as people are implying, the team would've been making the playoffs the past three years," Wilson said then. "I don't think this team is looking for one guy to lead them out of the mess. When you remove people who were big personalities from the room, it will probably allow others to grow."

Five months and almost 40 losses later, Wilson has had some cause to regret his words, but thinks both Sundin and the Leafs will be better for splitting in the long run.

"I still think we have (leadership) questions," Wilson said yesterday morning, to a near empty media scrum that vacated to camp at Sundin's stall. "But that's not anything I didn't expect. We've had people rise, people who've added ice time, such as Dominic Moore, who has had a breakout year for himself.

"It's obvious with our record that if Mats was in our lineup the number of games we've lost in shootouts (six) or overtime (five more), we might have won games, might have gone to overtime (and earned at least a point).

"But if we had 10 more points, where would we be? Still in the same situation (out of the playoffs). And we wouldn't have had the experience given to the Grabovksis and Moores. This season is about short-term pain with long-range goals in mind, of developing some people and preparing for the future."

Other than making a wrong turn out of the unfamiliar visitors dressing room in the morning and some long looks in the Leafs' zone during warmup, Sundin showed no outward signs of emotion.

"When things aren't going the way they should, then changes will be made, whether you're the Leafs or anyone else," Sundin said.

The players have moved on.

"Obviously when you're in a rebuilding situation, it's easier for young guys, they get more opportunity," Jason Blake said. "But it's not going to happen overnight. People want to see it, but it won't happen quickly. There are a lot of great players in this room, a lot of young guys who have shown throughout the years that they belong in this the league. But in saying that, definitely it would be nice to have Mats back."

Wilson grew as sick and tired as anyone at how Sundin's saga dragged on from spring through summer and late autumn. But he wished Sundin the best.

"I would want to have a crack at winning the Stanley Cup, not battling for the last playoff spot," Wilson said. "And he will have that opportunity if Vancouver turns out to be as good as it has been down the stretch the past seven or eight games. He deserves that."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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