November 09, 2006

Should I Be Worried?

It was around 12:30 pm this afternoon when I looked around my cubicle, to see if anyone was blatantly looking at me and could see my computer screen. The coast was clear, so I went ahead and made my daily online trek to As the website loaded onto my slow Apple (lame excuse of a) computer, the photograph for the top storycame up. It was of Mats Sundin. There was no headline, but immediately I knew something was wrong - because the Leafs weren't playing today. Finally, what seemed like minutes later and was probably about three seconds, the headline came up - "Sundin Out 3-4 Weeks".

I froze up. He'd been injured in practice, or worse, off the ice. Everything seemed to get quiet around me. I didn't know what to do, but I finally read the lead to the story. Sundin has a torn ligament in his elbow, and is expected to miss about a month of action. I felt a sweat break out on my brow. I looked around, to see if anyone noticed the clear discomfort I was now in. I grabbed my water bottle and nourished myself. I had to stay calm.

I thought about the injury, and saw in my mind the exact moment it happened in Monday's game. Sundin was going around the Philadelphia net with his head down and as he rounded the net somebody on the Flyers - I'm not sure who - clocked him pretty hard, and the brunt of the blow was on Sundin's right arm and elbow. I remember Mats almost flinching, and I knew he was in some pain. But he finished the game. There didn't seem to be anything wrong.

But clearly he is the latest Maple Leaf to join the club's walking wounded. The only problem is, he's the best player on the team. The best player on the ice and off it. The emotional leader. The physical leader. The man with the "C". The driver of the bus. As Sundin goes, so do the Leafs.

We've been here before. Sundin was knocked out of the first game of the regular season last year. But we had a little more depth at centre ice last year. It was Eric Lindros who really picked up the slack in Sundin's absence.

Mats has had a remarkably healthy hockey career. Only in the last few years has he spent some significant time on the injured last. At the same time, he's getting older, and so is his body. At 36 years of age, he's getting up there. But he has been great so far this year. Actually, more than great. He's been dominant.

Alright hockey Gods, that's two big injuries you've thrown our way already this year. And I'm not counting the injuries to Bell, Colaiacovo, and Kronwall. Those are minor. Kubina and Sundin, those are the big ones. So now, please, chill out hockey Gods. The way I see it, it's better now than during the stretch or during the playoffs. Lets get the major injuries out of the way.

I'm worried, but at the same time excited. Mainly worried, because the Leafs are not too strong up front. Ironically, the team has scored the third-most goals in the Eastern Conference. So my argument that the team is lacking the firepower it needs is not really true. But losing Mats will certainly hurt this team. He is just too important for it not too.

I'm excited because I want to see who will step up. Wellwood's tailed off nicely since his hot start to the season. He might get a chance to move to centre ice in the wake of Sundin's injury. Maybe Peca will step up. Steen really needs to wake up and start scoring some goals, especially now that Mats is gone. O'Neill needs to continue his decent play. Matty Stajan has been good so far, but now is his chance to make that leap in his career. If Stajan doesn't finish the season with 20 goals, he's not developing properly. He's on his way, I just need him to keep it up. Antropov and Ponikarovsky need to find the net on a regular basis. The goal scoring machine known as Tomas Kaberle can hopefully continue to score the way he is right now.

I don't who will step up. Maybe nobody will, and Ferguson will be forced to address the depth up front, but I like Paul Maurice and the effort he's getting from his players. Luckily, Mats' injury isn't too serious. We just have to stay afloat while he is gone. Pavel Kubina's return will help us defensively, and hopefully Razor can stay hot. Sundin's injury will test the character of this team, and hopefully the boys can come together as a group, show some resolve and leadership, and hold the fort while Captain Mats heals.

For a team looking to find their identity and continue to play consistently, maybe this is a good thing. Mats is injured. There's nothing anyone can do about it. But maybe there is a silver lining. We all know what Sundin is all about. Now I'm hoping to find out what the rest of the team is all about. You know what, maybe I am more excited than worried. I'm lookin forward to it.

Goodnight, Toronto...