February 26, 2008

I Ain't Mad At Cha

After refusing to waive his no-trade clause, Mats Sundin remains, for better or for worse, a Toronto Maple Leaf. Amidst intense speculation, the Captain couldn't abandon ship. To quote the late, great Tupac Shakur, "Shit, I'm wit cha, I ain't mad at cha. Got nuttin but love for ya, do your thing boy."


Only a couple of days ago I wrote on this very blog that loyalty in pro sports is a myth, and that it simply does not exist. Mats Sundin proved me wrong. He showed that an athlete, in today's day and age, can be loyal to a franchise, and to his teammates.

There are those who will chastize and rail on Sundin for refusing to leave town at management's request. How these people can do that is beyond me. Mats did nothing wrong. He did what he felt was right in his heart and, man, it just makes me feel all warm inside.

For Sundin, it was a no-win situation. If he accepted a trade out of town, there would have been those who would have been labelled him a quitter and a selfish hockey player. By choosing to stay in Toronto, those same douche bags are calling him selfish and disloyal to the franchise that made him a star. I've heard that if Mats "really" loved the Leafs, he would have left. Yeah. Okay.

In the end, Sundin exercised a negotiated clause in his contract, and had every right to do so. Deal with it. You don't have to support his decision. I can even understand, to an extent, why people are upset with Sundin. But I believe that after his 14 years of service in the blue and white, to a man we should all respect his decision.

I truly believed in my heart Sundin was a goner by today's trade deadline (speaking of the deadline, Ross McKeon over at Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Dallas Stars have acquired Brad Richards and the Montreal Canadiens have landed Marian "I completely disappear in the playoffs" Hossa). While I felt moving Sundin was in the best interests of the organization, I can't say I'm surprised or disappointed that Sundin chose to remain a Maple Leaf. Hell, it's what he's been saying all along. Mats said from day one that he wanted to remain in Toronto and regardless of how bleak the situation was (and still might get) around these parts, his decision wasn't going to change.

Sundin is, clearly, a man of his word, and a man of principles. He doesn't believe in being a rental player. His heart wasn't set on going to a new team and, potentially, winning hockey's holy grail as a late-season addition in an unfamiliar dressing room. His decision to stay in Toronto and rough it out is extremely honourable and classy.

It would have been easy for Mats to leave. He could have agreed to get as far away as possible from the train-wreck known as the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I would have understood. He could have agreed to go and play for a true contender. He could have agreed to go and join a team where he could have played with the quality of players he has not had the opportunity to play with in recent years in Toronto (read: good players). But Mats Sundin doesn't roll like that, and I'm proud of him. He didn't jump at the opportunity to leave town for greener pastures. Far from it. By all accounts, it was an agonizing decision, and Sundin couldn't get himself to leave.
He's like the captain of the Titanic. Or the dude's playing in the band on board. Pass him the violin. He's going down with the ship.

Sundin is hockey's anti-Vince Carter, and hockey's anti-Jason Kidd. In other words, he isn't an ego-maniac who only cares about himself. Sundin is, of course, looking out for himself by not waiving his no-trade clause. He's earned that right. But for those of us who have had the pleasure of watching him over the years, we know how much he values his teammates. They are his family. He'll never throw them under the bus. One of his main motivations in rejecting a trade out of town was that he couldn't leave his teammates and join another team. That says all you need to know about Mats Sundin right there.

Would Sundin agreeing to a deal have helped out the franchise? Absolutely, although I'm convinced Sundin wasn't going to command as high a price as people were expecting. The market, after last year's craziness involving guys like Forsberg, Tkachuk, and Ryan Smyth, is much more subdued this season. But it isn't Sundin's job to fix the terrible mis-management that has plagued the Maple Leafs for so many years. A friend of mine, Ryan, said it best: the Leafs made their own bed, and now they've got to sleep in it. Sundin is the only player on the team deserving of a no-trade clause, and it is the other no-trade clause contracts handed out to the likes of McCabe, Tucker, Kubina and Kaberle that have handcuffed the Leafs not only this season, but also in the years to come.

Sundin is my boy. He's been my boy for years, and will be my boy until it's all said and done. He is, in my mind, the greatest Maple Leaf ever. A sense of calm has come over me now that I know he will remain in the blue and white, and with the "C" on his chest. Too many Maple Leafs captains before Sundin, many of them great ones, have been shipped out of town without a proper and respectful salute: Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, Rick Vaive, Wendel Clark, and Doug Gilmour. Mats Sundin has always maintained that he wants to retire a Maple Leaf and we should all respect his one wish. We owe him that much, don't we?

Sundin is, of course, a free agent at seasons end and there has been speculation that the Leafs, to spite the fact that Mats has refused to waive his no-trade clause, will not offer to bring him back for another season. Sundin has also hinted that he may retire. I still think Mats has at least three solid years of hockey left in him, and if the Leafs even entertain the thought of not offering him a contract, well, shame on them. The Maple Leafs are already pretty much a laughing stock and I think they would be stapled to the cross if they pulled a stunt like that. At the same time, I can't put it past the Toronto Maple Leafs. They are the epitome of lunacy.

Mats Sundin, a Toronto Maple Leaf for life. The best ever. At the end of the day, Mats simply couldn't put another jersey over his shoulders, and how can I be mad at him for that? I can't. No way.

LEAFS 5 SENATORS 0

With Sundin-gate finally behind them, and their Captain still driving the bus, how would the Maple Leafs respond on the road against the hated Ottawa Senators last night? By spanking them 5-0, that's how! Yeah, I totally saw that one coming.

Of course, Sundin opened the scoring for Toronto, after a ridiculous feed from Kaberle on the power play. It was fitting that Mats got the Leafs on the board first. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of Sundin's life as member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sundin's goal set the tone. The Senators, who are looking extremely vulnerable heading down the stretch, were dominated by the Buds, in their own building no less. After all the severe beatings Ottawa has shoved down Toronto's throat the past few seasons, last night was, well, freakin' sweet. I've said it before - no matter how bad things are going or going to get, beating teams like Ottawa and Montreal is still extremely gratifying.

There was something in the air last night, though, that's for sure. The Leafs were buoyed by their Captain's decision to stay on board, even as the ship slowly takes on more and more water. The team played with heart and determination that has been sorely lacking all year. In the first period both Carlo Colaiacovo and Bryan McCabe gave up their bodies to block shots, setting the tone for what was one of Toronto's better efforts all year.

Darcy Tucker chipped in with two goals and an assist and continues to make me wonder where the Leafs would be in the standings had he shown up all season.

Vesa Toskala was his usual brilliant self, although he owes Kaberle a dinner at Mendy's after Kabby saved the day, and the shutout, by robbing Mike Fisher, who had an open net to shoot at, late in the game. Kaberle's goaltending exploits did not go unnoticed and the next time Toskala is injured, Kaberle will be strapping on the pads. After that one save last night it's obvious he's a better goalie than Andrew Raycrap, the forgotten man.

It's also pretty amazing to see what happens when the Leafs actually score on their power plays, and kill off their penalties. Really makes a difference, eh? Who knew?

There is a large group of fans out there who surely weren't too happy with yesterday's results. Why, you ask? Because they want the Leafs to lose. They want the Leafs to finish as low as possible in the standings in order to secure a higher draft pick, and maybe even the top pick overall. Me, I can't do that. I can't cheer for my boys to lose. It's not in me. And knowing the Leafs' track record in the draft, well, if we do manage to get the top pick (Steve Stamkos, please!) we'll manage to screw it up somehow. It's what we do best.

In addition to wanting to see Sundin leave, there are those out there (Cliff Fletcher included) who want the Leafs to trade McCabe, Kubina, Kaberle and Tucker. Well, it ain't happening, because they've all refused to waive their no-trade clauses. Deep down, I'm glad they did. It's kind of sick, but I don't want any of them to leave. Especially McCabe. Say what you want about him, but the Leafs are a much better team when he's in the lineup. Since he returned to action on February 7th, after missing seven weeks with broken bones in his hand, the Leafs have won six of their last nine games. I'm tired of McCabe being the scapegoat.

Basically, I'm willing to give all these guys a mulligan this year. Don't trade em, Cliff. They're all under contract for next year so lets giv'er another shot next season. I know it's not exactly the smartest idea around, but, well, I love these guys, and for some really stupid reason, believe in them.

With Sundin's decision to stay in Toronto, coupled with last night's beautiful win, I'm hoping the Leafs go on a run. For Mats. They've got to make the playoffs for Sundin. To prove to all the douche bags out there that he made the right decision. That his faith in his teammates was justified. Oh, it would be the stuff of legends and lore.

With 18 games remaining on the schedule - that's 36 points for you math whizzes out there (don't worry, I used my calculator) - the Leafs can finish the season with, potentially, 99 points. To do that, they have to win all of their final 18 games. Yes, I am delusional. Realistically, and this is where it all goes to hell, the Leafs need to win at least 15 of their last 18 games. That would give them an additional 30 points and a total of 93, and likely sneak them into the second season. The odds of that last scenario happening? Not bloody likely. But I'm a dreamer, and if Mats Sundin has taught me anything, it's that dreams can come true (no, not the dream of winning the Stanley Cup, but the dream of Mats retiring as a Maple Leaf).

The Leafs, going into trade deadline day today, sit six points, and four teams, out of the final playoff spot. It's going to take a miracle. So put on your rally caps, my friends. Do it for Sundin because after his decision to stay, and the heroics of last night, a miracle is exactly what we are about to witness.

2 comments:

Mike said...

Enjoy your Sundin-stalgia when the Leafs still blow in four years (about the time the Baltimore Orioles, currently selling their roster for scrap, will launch into their next dynasty).

Anonymous said...

hahahahaha