PITTSBURGH – On a day that Alex Ovechkin accepted two of the NHL’s top awards and the puck dropped for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, the Toronto Maple Leafs still found a way to steal some of the spotlight.
Mats Sundin raised some eyebrows when he hinted playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs wasn’t his only option for next season. The Leafs captain, who accepted the Mark Messier Leadership Award on Wednesday, is an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“I do think that I have a lot of different options I can explore,” Sundin said. “And I think I still remain (maintain) that I want to end my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Saying that, though, the way the situation is right now, I don’t have everything in my control, either. There’s got to be a mutual agreement there.
“At this point, I don’t have anything I can say about what’s going to happen next year personally. I don’t know.”
Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher wants to meet with Sundin to discuss his future.
“I hope to talk to Mats within the week,” Fletcher told The Canadian Press from Toronto.
Sundin is expected to be back in Toronto for a few days before heading to Sweden on Sunday. Fletcher was slated to come to the Cup final for Saturday’s fourth game. That leaves a window of Thursday or Friday for the two to meet.
“I haven’t made a decision about next year,” said the 37-year-old Swedish star.
“First of all, for me to come back to Toronto, Toronto has got to show they really want me to come back, too,” Sundin later added. “So we’ll see what happens. I’m not in control of that. It’s got to start there. I hopefully will know in the next month or so, I guess.”
Sundin, who earned US$5.5 million last season, refused to waive his no-trade clause in February, blocking an apparent trade to Montreal. The Canadiens, it’s believed, would have interest in him again should Sundin be available July 1.
The Detroit Red Wings are another club rumoured to have some interest.
“It’s all speculation,” Sundin said when asked about other teams possibly wanting him. “As I said, I couldn’t answer that question right now. I think the biggest decision for me, that I have right now, is to make sure that I feel that I’m physically and mentally ready to train for another season to continue my career.”
The Leafs’ search for a GM will play a factor.
“What’s going to happen in Toronto is going to be very interesting,” said Sundin. “And it’s going to affect my decision in the future.”
There’s always the chance Sundin retires after 17 NHL seasons. But he didn’t show signs of slowing down this past season, leading the Leafs in goals (32), assists (46) and points (78).
“I felt very strong on the ice this year, and I felt I had as good of a year as I’ve had in my past 10 years maybe,” said Sundin. “Maybe that would be an argument for me to play next year.
“But I don’t know. I don’t have a decision on that made yet.”
What Sundin will not do is wait half a season like Teemu Selanne did in Anaheim this past season.
“I haven’t thought of that,” said Sundin. “Just my own feeling, I think I have to make a decision pretty soon if I’m going to play in next season and make sure that I get the training and all that in.
“So I don’t think that would be an option for me, actually.”
Sundin took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award “in recognition for his outstanding performance as a player, his leadership skills and his dedicated humanitarian efforts,” the NHL said in a release.
“The truest test of leadership comes during periods of adversity,” said Messier. “When presented with difficult times during the season, Mats Sundin remained committed to his teammates, his community and to the game of hockey. I am honoured to present the Mark Messier Leadership Award to Mats Sundin.
“He understands the importance of his status in Toronto and his dedication to his community is unmatched. The strength of his character makes Mats a tremendous role model both on and off the ice.”
Ovechkin accepted the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top point-getter with 112 and the Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy for topping all goal scorers with 65. He may also pick up the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP next month in Toronto.
“I will be happy, it would be a big honour for me,” Ovechkin said of winning the Hart. “But if not, I’ll be happy as well.”
Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek were not on hand but GM Ken Holland and goalie coach Jim Bedard accepted the Jennings Trophy on their behalf. The Wings allowed an NHL-low 184 goals this season.
The 10th annual NHL Foundation Award, “recognizing the NHL player who applies the core values of hockey (commitment, perseverance and teamwork)” was presented to Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Trevor Linden of the Vancouver Canucks.
The rest of the NHL awards will presented June 12 in Toronto.