As I watched the UEFA Cup final, my thoughts drifted to hockey during halftime. I must have been in a European frame of mind because I started wondering about Mats Sundin. In Leaf Nation there is strong support to have their captain return. As there should be. There is however a growing number of Leaf fans that want to see the team go in another direction and spend Sundin's money elsewhere. There's no doubt it will be hotly debated on radio, television and in print until Mats makes his decision.
My thoughts weren't whether he would be back, but what happens if he's not? Toronto could be without a GM, a coach and a captain. Has this ever happened in NHL history? Who on the Leafs roster could step in to fill the void? Could Cliff Fletcher make a trade for a captain? Sign a free agent to wear the C and guide the talented young Marlies into Maple Leafs? Let's have a look.
With Mats gone, not only is there a leadership void ( he's the second longest serving captain behind Sakic in Colorado), his 78 points last year and 987 points in 981 career games as a Leaf would leave a huge hole up front should he not return. Would Toronto look for a player to fill both holes or just focus on one?
I looked around the league at some free agents that would certainly fill the leadership role but there's not a lot of offence. I don't think signing someone like Hossa is the answer here. How about some former Leafs? Would Owen Nolan be a good fit after a stellar year for the Flames. This guy is true grit and may have a few more years left in him. He did play 77 games for Mike Keenan last year and had 32 points. There's Peca in Columbus but he seems to have the injury bug the last few years and his point totals are declining. Jason Smith in Philly is interesting. Could he come back to Toronto after being traded in '99? He played 77 games and was a steal at only 1.9 million for the year. Another name that caught my eye was Gary Roberts. JF jr said tonight on "Off the record" he wished he'd kept Roberts. He's averaged forty to fifty points the last few years and he would certainly pick up his teammates by the shirt collar if need be.
I also considered the trade route. Patrick Marleau seems to be a name that's always out there. He has a no trade that kicks in July 1st. It was supposed to be a sure thing that he'd be moved but apparently they might let a new coach make the final call. Could Fletcher put together a package of young players for a player like Marleau who needs a fresh start. I think it would do him good to get back in a hockey market where the game is the priority. One real long shot - what would it take to get Draper out of Detroit. I have to admit, the goal off the face has me really high on this guy right now. His face-off skills alone would make him an asset.
Then there's promotion from within. This is probably the most likely. I can't see the Leafs signing any big names when there is the perception that no one is in charge. Looking at the current roster only one name jumps out, Kaberle. He would be a good bridge from the Sundin era. So many of the big names in Toronto seem to be on their way out - McCabe, Kubina and Tucker will all be finding new addresses this off season. Kaberle knows the room, he's an All Star and he played a full 82 games last year with a solid 53 points.
Considering the state of things in Toronto, a new captain may be the least of their worries and Mats Sundin could still be back for another year. I know it's early to be having this conversation but it's the night between game 3 and 4 of the final...at best there are 5 more games this year...then what are we gonna do? Hey Leaf Nation - Who would you like to see wear the C if Mats moves on?