TORONTO (Feb. 22) -- If the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is to waive his vaunted no-trade clause, it will not happen in the immediate moments before the NHL-imposed deadline of 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon. Though general manager Cliff Fletcher has been very cautious in responding to questions about Mats Sundin, he was quite revealing in a media scrum during the first intermission of last night's Toronto-Buffalo game at the Air Canada Centre.
"Mats has been such a big, important part of this franchise for so many years, you don't think we're going to drop something on [him] at five to three Tuesday afternoon?" Fletcher asked, rhetorically. "I don't do business that way."
Which is a clear indication that any proposal he has for Sundin will be shown to the captain by Monday afternoon at the latest. The rest of the world may not get confirmation of a Sundin deal until some time on Tuesday, but the big Swede and the Silver Fox will have come to an agreement before then. If news continues to be sketchy, the tip-off will be the Leafs game on Monday night in Ottawa. There is no chance Sundin will dress against the Senators if Fletcher is even close to making a deal. What Fletcher will apparently not do is play competing offers against one another until the last possible moment. It may cost him a better deal, but he said last night that he won't string along the Leafs' captain.
Otherwise, it's clear that the NHL general managers are waiting for two members of their fraternity to pull the trigger. "It was all quiet around the league again," Fletcher said during the Leafs/Sabres game. "Obviously, it's starting to get towards crunch time, so talk will pick up considerably. [The market] is dictated by 30 general managers, and caution seems to be prevailing right now on all fronts. That's why it's been so quiet. It will probably take one or two trades. Then, all of a sudden, teams will want to start moving so they're not left behind."
Which begs the question of proaction rather than reaction. Do the Leafs have a definitive strategy, or are they waiting for someone else to make a move?
"Absolutely we have a strategy; we know exactly what we're planning to do," said Fletcher, sounding hauntingly, for a moment, like his predecessor, John Ferguson. "But, you have to understand that we have to move forward at the pace dictated by other people. This is not something done unilaterally. If it's going to be done by us, there has to be a partner, and it has to be a match. We're conducting business as usual and we adjust to the situation as it is at the time."
The NBA trade deadline yesterday featured a gigantic, three-team deal between Cleveland, Chicago and Seattle that involved 11 players. Fletcher laughed when he was asked if the same scenario could unfold in the NHL, and he feigned disappointment when realizing the basketball trade broke his NHL record of 10 players in a deal. That, of course, took shape in January, 1992, when Fletcher acquired Doug Gilmour from the Calgary Flames.
For those wondering if a team acquiring Sundin on Monday could turn around and flip the Leafs' captain elsewhere before the deadline, it is highly unlikely. Should Sundin waive his right to leave Toronto, that part of his contract would follow him to the next city. It would not constitute a revocation of his no-trade privilege.
E-mail [email protected]