TORONTO -- Mats Sundin knows there is bitterness swirling around Toronto like so much newfallen snow.
Sundin knows some in this city will never understand why he refused to waive his no-trade contract at the trade deadline last season.
He just wants them to "respect" his decision.
On the day he spoke publicly for the first time as a member of the Vancouver Canucks, the big Swede took time to address the issue yesterday, one that remains a hot topic in his former hockey home.
"I have all the respect for the Toronto Maple Leaf fans," Sundin said. "I was so proud to be part of the great tradition there."
But what about the claims that, by opting not to be moved, you were not looking out for the long-term interests of the very Maple Leafs franchise you always said you were so proud to be a part of?
Do you understand the bounty of draft picks, prospects and young players the Leafs could have landed?
Why, Mats, why?
"I just thought we had a chance to make the playoffs," Sundin said, responding to the question that has been on the minds of Torontonians for months now. "I just hope (the fans) respect my position as a player."
Sundin said a return to Toronto this season never was an alternative. Once he decided to play, Vancouver topped his list, primarily because it kept a spot open for him since it tabled a two-year, $20-million US offer for him in July.
Question his choice not to waive his no trade if you want. It's your right. Just like it was his right to stay put.
If you want to spread the blame around, how about wagging an accusing finger at Toronto management for giving him the no-trade in the first place? There's a novel idea.
In the end, Sundin had the hammer. He used it. Many people don't like the way he did it. Fair enough.
But the most ridiculous accusation we've heard throughout this lengthy soap opera is that Sundin is a traitor.
For becoming an unrestricted free agent?
For not returning to an organization that, general manager Brian Burke admitted Thursday, didn't want him?
This was not Tracy McGrady pining to get out of town, despite the pleas of fans for him to remain a Raptor.
This, in fact, was a player who wanted to finish out the remainder of the season.
Admittedly, by staying put for the final six weeks of the 2007-08 campaign, Sundin, in fact, did not help the team get better in the long run.
Have you forgotten how craptacular this team would have been during his 13-year Toronto stint if Sundin, the leading scorer in franchise history, had not been in the lineup all that time?
Can you say Harold Ballard era?
Whichever way you lean on this issue, hopefully this can all be put to bed when Sundin makes his first appearance at the Air Canada Centre with the Canucks on Feb. 21.
Boo if you want. But don't call him a traitor.
"Toronto has been my home for 13 years," Sundin said. "I have friends in Toronto. I always will have. It's always going to have a part of my heart and it's always going to feel like coming home to Toronto.
"I look forward to the game -- it's going to feel good coming into the Air Canada Centre. Playing against the Leafs is going to be tough and interesting.
"Whatever (the crowd reception is), I'll have to live with it."
Former Leaf Kyle Wellwood, reunited with Sundin in Vancouver, hopes so too.
"If I were to guess, I would say 90% of the fans will cheer him," Wellwood said last night from Vancouver. "Of course, I could be wrong."
Euphoria reigned supreme out on the Left Coast yesterday when the Canucks held their first team meeting of the Sundin era.
"I think it made us feel proud that he picked us," Wellwood said.
Sundin will not commit to playing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. He is taking it just one year at a time.
In the meantime, can we finally pull the plug on this "Mats is a traitor" schlock?