OTTAWA – Some long-suffering fans in Toronto might disagree, but Mats Sundin is at ease with his decision to remain with the Maple Leafs for the remainder of the NHL season.
“Personally, it feels good,” Sundin said Monday following the team’s pre-game skate at Scotiabank Place, where Toronto plays the Ottawa Senators in its final game ahead of Tuesday’s 3 p.m. ET league trade deadline.
Looking relaxed and relieved to put the situation behind him, Sundin was meeting the media face-to-face for the first time since he and his agent J.P. Barry issued a statement late Sunday night. In it, they said the 37-year-old Swede wouldn’t waive the no-movement clause in his contract that would have allowed Leafs’ caretaker general manager Cliff Fletcher to pursue a deal for the team’s captain and all-time scoring leader.
“We looked at every different angle in terms of what my position has been and the situation of where I am at this stage of my career and all of that,” Sundin said. “I think at the end, I followed my heart and I just haven’t felt the desire to go to any other team or play for any other team at this point.”
Sundin, an unrestricted free agent July 1, would have proven to be the Leafs’ most-desired asset by other NHL teams and could have expected to fetch a fair price in return for Toronto.
His decision further ties the hands of Fletcher, who took over for the fired John Ferguson and was expected to begin cleaning house at the Air Canada Centre with the Leafs languishing out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference for the third straight year.
Winger Darcy Tucker and defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina refused to waive similar contract clauses and fellow blue-liner Bryan McCabe added to the logjam when he all but confirmed his desire to stay in Toronto after he was said to have discussed waving his no-movement clause with Fletcher on Friday.
“I’m not going anywhere, that’s my status right there,” he snapped at a reporter when asked about the possibility of his moving.
Speaking to The Canadian Press in Toronto later Monday, Fletcher said: “If that’s his decision, it’s part of the contract he negotiated and it’s right to do that, we have no issue with that.”
Without being able to deal away any of the aforementioned veterans and their salaries, Fletcher’s avenues are limited.
Forwards Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky – who coach Paul Maurice said Monday is out for about a week with a rib injury – and Matt Stajan or defenceman Hal Gill are some of the names who have been mentioned in possible moves.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Leafs winger Jason Blake. “Obviously, Mr. Fletcher comes in and I think the talk was he was going to clean up the mess, not his words, but that was the words of the people in the hockey circle and the town of Toronto. He was trying to rebuild as much as he could and I don’t know if he’s going to be able to do that or he’s going to have the opportunity to do that through the rest of the year.
“It’s exciting; I’m a big guy when it comes to trade rumours. I love them, I love the kettle being stirred, but I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Sundin’s contract expires at season’s end and now Toronto could lose him for nothing, so his loyal stance may not be the most popular with some Leaf fans who were hoping the team could get a start on building for the future. The reaction was fairly split down the middle among radio callers Monday.
“There’s nothing I can control about what people are going to feel about my decision,” Sundin said. “I hope people respect my decision and I can’t really worry about what people are going to say about it.”
Sundin said he wasn’t at all upset with the organization for putting him in the situation and, as he had done in Sunday’s statement, he stressed that the idea of being a rental player for another team’s post-season run didn’t hold any appeal for him.
“I don’t really think it’s a good solution for myself. I know a lot of players have found that that’s a good way to go to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” said Sundin, who has never appeared in the Cup final. “To me, the drive for the Stanley Cup starts in training camp and with the guys. The regular season is the buildup where you set your precedents to go into the playoffs and then you move on.
“My dream has always been to win the Stanley Cup with the Toronto Maple Leafs and I’ve been here for 13 years and we’ve put a lot of work in here as players and to me it was just tough to try and picture that somewhere else.”
Sundin’s stance was met with support from inside both dressing rooms at Scotiabank Place.
“He’s here, we like having him around, he’s a good man and a great leader,” Maurice said.
“Having that calibre of hockey player on your team and the leadership that he brings is definitely a plus,” Blake added. “You feel for him a little bit because obviously when you do spend a lot of time in one spot, for him it’s the majority of his career, it is tough to leave and tough to see yourself in a different uniform or with a bunch of news guys.
“And he made a pretty good valid point about the rental-player thing. That was his decision and obviously we’re glad to see him stay.”
Even down the hall in the Senators’ dressing room, Sundin’s loyalty to Toronto earned him kudos from team captain and fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson and Ottawa players.
“He’s kind of like the Maple Leafs for me,” Alfredsson said. “Good for him.”
“It’s not an easy decision, but everybody’s got to do what’s best for themselves,” said Senators defenceman Wade Redden.
Redden had recently balked at the idea of waiving his own no-trade clause when approached by Ottawa GM Bryan Murray about the possibility of a move away from Canada’s capital.
Canadian Press hockey writer Pierre LeBrun contributed to this report.