Cliff Fletcher got a phone call from Bob Gainey on Thursday.
Status quo on the Mats Sundin front, the Montreal Canadiens GM told the Toronto Maple Leafs GM. “Bob apprised me of how the situation was going from his perspective,” Fletcher said Thursday. “I appreciated the call. We’ll just have to wait it out.”
Waiting it out is what both the Leafs and Habs are doing right now, not to mention Sundin’s own camp.
“We had lengthy discussions with Mats last night,” his agent J.P. Barry of CAA Sports said Thursday. “He still hasn’t decided whether or not he wants to play next year. There really isn’t anything any of us can do planning-wise until Mats makes the decision to play.
“I still believe strongly that he will play next year but I have to respect his timeline regarding his decision.”
Gainey and Sundin had a 30-minute phone conversation Wednesday, and while the 37-year-old star centre is impressed with Montreal’s interest and has great respect for the Canadiens GM, he still wasn’t ready yet to meet him face to face. Not until he decides whether or not he’s going to play again.
In the meantime, the clock keeps ticking towards next Tuesday’s noon ET start to free agency, at which point the Canadiens lose their exclusive negotiating rights with the Swedish star. At which point Sundin is also no longer a Maple Leaf.
“I think I have a good enough relationship with Mats and with J.P. that they’ll communicate with me at their convenient time and probably giving me enough time to start planning what I have to do,” said Fletcher, who also conveyed a one-year contract offer to Sundin last weekend in the neighbourhood of US$7 million.
The Leafs would like to know before Tuesday whether they’re heading into free agency with an extra $7 million to spend.
“Naturally the sooner I hear what’s going on, the better off we are,” said Fletcher. “We have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C ready to go July 1 depending on how we feel the situation is when the gong goes off.”
From the agent’s perspective, the longer Sundin goes into July, the more the landscape probably changes for him.
“He knows that if he waits too long certain opportunities could disappear,” said Barry. “But he just wants to be 100 per cent sure that he wants to play next year.”
The Sundin saga continues to dominate the media spotlight in both Original Six cities, feeding the vast appetite for hockey coverage. It’s not every day a Leafs captain has the chance to leave for rival Montreal.
Former Leafs captain and fan favourite Doug Gilmour can somewhat relate with Sundin, although he joined Montreal four years after leaving Toronto. And there were NHL stops in between in New Jersey, Chicago and Buffalo.
“The biggest thing is that our situations are totally different,” Gilmour said Thursday. “But I do remember sitting there in Toronto (in 2001) negotiating with Montreal and Ottawa. I made the decision to go to Montreal. I was near the end of my career and I just wanted to help that team.
“I was very impressed with that team, the management … they’re phenomenal people.”
With the clock ticking on Montreal’s negotiating rights, it makes it even a tougher decision for Sundin, Gilmour said.
“But at the same time, if he’s willing to do it, the history there alone with that team is amazing,” said Gilmour. “For Mats, he played in Quebec, he played in Toronto and if he goes to Montreal – wow, he stayed in Canada his whole career.”
Gilmour was the face of the Leafs when he helped revitalize the franchise in the early 1990s. Seeing him in a Habs uniform a decade later was hard to take for some friends and family. But not everyone, Gilmour said.
“My sister’s husband Barry said to me once, ‘I don’t like the Leafs that much,”‘ Gilmour recalled. “I said ‘What? You’ve been cheering for them all these years.’ He says, ‘Well, you were on the team, that’s why.’ But I’ve been a closet Habs fan my whole life.’
“So there’s a lot of closet Habs fans that came out of the woodwork that I didn’t know about when I was playing there. Especially since I’m from Kingston.”