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Sittler, Gilmour ?: Clark remembers the pain of being traded away
JOE O'CONNOR, National Post
Published: Friday, January 19, 2007

TORONTO - His arms are spread wide in the photograph, and the captain is flashing his just-scored-a-goal grin, a look Toronto Maple Leafs fans know can only belong to Mats Sundin.

Sundin's smiling image is the focal point of a mural decorating the wall of a lounge on the second level at the Air Canada Centre. Above it, in big red letters, are the words: The Present.

And standing beneath the image yesterday was The Past.

Wendel Clark was the featured guest at a news conference promoting the upcoming Baycrest International Pro-Am Hockey Tournament, a charity event where regular Joes can play with their heroes while raising funds for Alzheimer's research at Baycrest geriatric health-care facility.

Despite their representations of different Leafs eras, Clark and Sundin are forever bound together in franchise folklore. Clark was drafted first overall by Toronto in 1985, and he spent his first nine seasons with the franchise -- three of those as its' captain -- before being traded to Quebec for Sundin in June, 1994.

"I never saw it coming," Clark says of the swap that sent him to Quebec with Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a first-round pick for Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a first-round pick.

"I was getting gas for the car and turned on the radio, and that's how I found out I had been traded."

It was a kick to the gut for the captain. Clark had endured the final gasps of the Harold Ballard era, and was finally enjoying some playoff success in Toronto, leading the Leafs to back-to-back appearances in the conference final.

He was also coming off the most productive season of his pro career, with 46 goals and 76 points in 64 games. In his mind, he felt he would always be a Leaf.

"You say as a player that your first trade is your hardest trade," Clark said.

"There were nine years in Toronto, and it's like family. It is forever, and then you get traded.

"The toughest part is the emotional attachment."

Toronto has a history of saying goodbye to its beloved captains. Dave Keon bolted to the WHA; an embittered Darryl Sittler was sent to Philadelphia, Rick Vaive to Chicago, Clark to Quebec, and Doug Gilmour was packed off for New Jersey. But Sundin remains a Leaf.

Toronto is paying the big Swede US$7.6-million this season, and the club holds an option for next year. Sundin's contract includes a no-trade clause, and the 35-year-old-- who turns 36 on Feb. 13 -- has publicly expressed a wish to remain with the team.

The National Post reported in December that upper management is eager to satisfy that desire, and plan on reworking Sundin's deal to keep the franchise's second all-time leading scorer in Toronto until the day he retires.

Sundin was leading the current crop of Leafs with 18 goals and 42 points entering last night's contest with Florida. His team, meanwhile, has been teetering on the Eastern Conference tightrope between maintaining a spot in the playoff picture, and tumbling right out of it.

NHL sources say Sundin could command a first-round draft pick, a top prospect and a player on the bottom half of a club's roster should Leafs general manager John Ferguson decide to alter the plan and begin listening to offers for the captain prior to the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

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