OTTAWA -- Cliff Fletcher was working the phones yesterday but chances are good the Maple Leafs' interim general manager didn't have Bryan McCabe's cell on speed dial.
Fletcher said late yesterday afternoon the interest across the National Hockey League in trading for McCabe, who is under contract for $5.75 million US for each of the next three seasons, was minimal. So the idea that McCabe, who insisted again after the morning skate that he wants to stay in Toronto, would consider a trade proposal that Fletcher could bring to him likely will be moot, because Fletcher will have nothing to present.
That should suit McCabe, who apparently thinks the Leafs will be fine. The 32-year-old took a bite out of a throng of reporters yesterday when he was asked how the team could get better if nothing substantial was changed.
"You guys make us out to be the worst team in the world," McCabe said. "I don't think we are that far off. We have battled injuries every year in here. We are one or two players from being a good team."
McCabe didn't say whether those two players were Sidney Crosby and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Though his hands have been tied by the no-trade or no-movement clauses that were thrown around by John Ferguson like his job depended on how many he dispensed, Fletcher said he was not frustrated by the lack of big trades.
"This is not an overnight process," said Fletcher, who stayed in Toronto yesterday. "Whether anything happens is hard to predict. I always thought there was a possibility that (Mats Sundin, McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker and Pavel Kubina) would refuse to waive their clauses. That's their right. They negotiated them, and I have to respect that. I would not want to use the word frustration."
Fletcher stressed again that he won't make a trade just so he has something to talk about this afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. Other than making lateral deals -- such as Nik Antropov or Alex Steen for another young player, or dealing Chad Kilger for a draft pick -- there is little that Fletcher could do. However, assets remain. Goalie Vesa Toskala, who does not have a no-trade clause and is under contract for $4 million US for each of the next two seasons, would be attractive.
"We're trying to build a hockey team here," Fletcher said late last night. "Fergie made a great deal for a good goalie and he's here (to stay)."
Sundin, meanwhile, said he did not blame Fletcher for asking him whether he would waive his no-trade and would not hold a grudge. Sundin added he has given "no thought" as to whether he would play next season.
And if he put some people off with his decision, which might have denied the Leafs a superb chance to help build for the future, so be it.
"There is no doubt we are in the winning industry," Sundin said. "We are in a tough position again this year. There is nothing I can control about what people are going to feel about my decision. I hope people respect it. I can't really worry about what people are going to say about it. In the end I followed my heart."