NAPLES, Fla. -- At some point between now and Feb. 26, Maple Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher will go to captain Mats Sundin on bended knee and ask him in the nicest possible way to waive his no-trade clause so Toronto can begin the long task of rebuilding its rotted vessel.
Whether the team wanting Sundin is Detroit or Anaheim or Montreal or Ottawa, rest assured, it will be a team that will give the 37-year-old Sundin his best shot to win his first Stanley Cup.
No one knows what Sundin will say when this offer is presented to him, but the Leafs' course of action should be very clear if he maintains his stated position that he has no intention of leaving Toronto.
First, Fletcher should immediately strip Sundin of the captain's C. Then, Fletcher should make it very clear he will not re-sign the unrestricted free agent this summer or strongly recommend to the next full-time GM that Sundin not be re-signed.
After all, what kind of role model is Sundin if he refuses to commit the ultimate act of leadership by helping the team he professes to love get better? What kind of leader would prefer not to go to a contender and stay with a team that has no hope to make the playoffs and is already in a much-publicized rebuilding phase? Is this a hockey leader, a player worthy of the captaincy, or is this a man who simply enjoys the prospect of an early trip to his cottage or vacation in Spain every April?
Think that's harsh? Get over it.
This is a team that hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 41 years. The only chance the Leafs have of ever getting back to being a team that can realistically contemplate being a contender is to rebuild -- and that starts with Sundin. He is the focal point, both philosophically and literally. Enjoying one of his strongest seasons, Sundin is coveted by many teams and should yield a top prospect, a first-round draft pick and other assorted spare parts.
This has nothing to do with whether Sundin has been a good and loyal player. He has been. This isn't about his contributions and commitment to the franchise. They have been exemplary. But these things have nothing to do with the reality facing the Leafs.
There are 104 NHL players who have no-trade and/or no-movement clauses in their contracts. Those clauses were given to them by NHL GMs, so you can't blame the players for taking advantage of something that gives them some control over their hockey lives. But at the same time, when a club feels it needs to make a move (and that move involves a player with that kind of clause), it's entirely within their rights to use whatever options they have available to get the deal done.
In St. Louis, the Blues very much wanted to acquire Andy McDonald from Anaheim, but Doug Weight balked at waiving his no-trade clause. The Blues essentially told Weight he wasn't going to fit into their plans and he would be looking at time in the press box and reduced ice time if he didn't agree to the deal.
That had nothing to do with whether Weight was a good guy -- he is. But the Blues needed to move forward and they needed Weight to help them get there, whether he wanted to or not.
The situation handed Fletcher in Toronto following the firing of former GM John Ferguson is untenable. There are five Leafs players with no-trade clauses: Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle and Darcy Tucker.
Kaberle, according to reports, has already declined to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to Philadelphia. What? Kaberle didn't like the idea of a long playoff run? Was he afraid of missing the World Championships?
What do Kaberle's teammates see when they see him walk through the door now, a player who, fully within his rights, declined to play for a team with a chance? Likewise, any of the others who may be asked to waive their no-trade deals but decline should take a long, hard look in the mirror.
The Leafs' situation is different than that of a player like Wade Redden, who has twice been approached about waiving his no-trade clause by Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. Redden, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is on a team that might well win a Stanley Cup. His refusal to consider moving is understandable.
Sundin and the rest of the Leafs have no such justification.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.