June 30, 2008

If Sundin Leaves...

Still no word from Mats Sundin. If he leaves, I think I'm ready. I'm holding out hope, though, that he'll return for another season in the blue and white. I'm holding out hope that, at the end of the day, he can't put another jersey over his shoulders.

At the same time, I'm not upset that he hasn't yet come to a decision when it comes to his future. He'd be a fool not to test the free agent market, set to open at high noon on Tuesday, July 1st. You'd do the same if you were in his position. He's got to see what's out there.

If Sundin does leave, I wish him nothing but success. He owes the Maple Leafs nothing. I'm sick and tired of hearing and reading that he does. Last week someone came at me with this gem: "Sundin should have done the honourable thing and let Toronto trade him, like Wendel Clark did." Riiiiiiiight. Wendel had no say in the matter when he was dealt back in 1994. Wendel didn't "let" the Leafs do anything. Because Wendel didn't have a no-trade clause, mutually agreed upon by both player and team, negotiated into his contract.

With his negotiating rights transferred to Montreal, Sundin's already got an offer from le bleu, blanc et rouge. If he wanted to sign with Montreal, I think he would have done it by now. On Tuesday, he'll receive an offer from the Leafs (one-year, $7 million, and a no-movement clause), and likely ones from Detroit and the Rangers of New York.

I can't help but be a bit tickled by the thought of Mats playing in Montreal. Sure, the Habs are our historic rivals, but we haven't played them in the playoffs since we moved to the Eastern Conference and until that happens, the "rivalry" will always be a little dry. And just imagine Sundin in that lineup, in that building. It would be electric, playing with Alex Kovalev, Tomas Plekanec, the Kostitsyn brothers, Saku Koivu, and Chris Higgins. Montreal, with Sundin on board, would be quite the offensive juggernaut.

Don't get me wrong, seeing Mats trade in his Leafs uniform for a Habs one would be intensely awkward. Sort of like going to Canada's Wonderland as a young lad on "Gay Day" (not that there's anything wrong with that), but not knowing it was "Gay Day." Yes, awkward like that. Umm, not that that's ever happened to me before.

Detroit would also be a great match for Sundin. He can join the Swedish posse down there, and give himself the best chance to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

As for New York, I see it as the least likely place Sundin ends up. Sure, it would be great to see Sundin play with talent the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, but I just don't see it happening for some reason. Chalk it up to gut feeling. And for the record, my gut feeling is in mired in a serious slump at the plate right now.

A lot of people I speak to are bitching and moaning that Mats hasn't yet made up his mind about whether he's coming back to Toronto or not. They say he either knows or he doesn't. I say that simply is not true. Sundin, as loyal and dedicated a Maple Leaf as there has ever been, has earned the right to make his decision on his own schedule. In a perfect world, Cliff Fletcher would know whether that $7 million allocated to Sundin can be spelt elsewhere tomorrow. But it ain't a perfect world. Sundin can't be faulted for taking the time he needs to make this critical decision.

Lately I've been feeling like Sundin should bolt for greener pastures, and that this city doesn't deserve him anymore. It saddens me to know that people are getting ready to burn his jersey and deny his tremendous legacy here in Toronto if he decides that, at this stage in his career, with the window quickly closing, he goes down another path. And all because we didn't get Chris Higgins, or a draft pick or two in return. It seems all those years of diligent service - the goals, the points, the scars, the playoff battles, the victories - don't count for anything.

Sundin goes into Tuesday afternoon with a lot of options. He will likely have, at one point or another, offers on the table from four of the NHL's Original Six franchises. That is incredible. Which ever team he chooses, in my mind he'll have made the right decision. I hope it's Toronto. I hope he continues to lead this team as it heads, finally, in a new direction.

If Sundin leaves, I'll be rooting for him and his new team. Loudly. Unapologetically. I will let the haters do the hating. Those who don't like Sundin will always have their reasons to not like him. I think, actually, I've heard them all. Those who choose not to like him if he leaves via free agency on Tuesday (or later), with the Leafs netting nothing in return, are, well, simply bitter and petty.

Just remember that another former Captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, one Doug Gilmour, when he was a free agent in 2001, chose between two teams: the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

If Sundin leaves, I'll be disappointed, of course. But I will harbour no ill will towards him. If he leaves, it will mark the end of one tremendous ride. Even after everything that went down these last few months - the trade deadline and the calls for Sundin to accept a trade and "help the Leafs" - let it never be said that Mats Sundin let down the Toronto Maple Leafs. It simply isn't true. By never surrounding Sundin with the talent he deserved to play with - ironically, the same talent he can now go and find on another team - the Toronto Maple Leafs let Sundin down.

You're free to leave the nest, Mats. Fly away, if that's what your heart desires. I'll never hold it against you.

But I'm still hoping he stays...


general borschevsky said...

I hope Sundin does play another year because I don't want to see him go out like this. It's too anti-climactic for such a great career.
However, I'm okay with it if he does play elsewhere. What troubles me is Sundin's wishy-washyness on if he's going to play. Does Sundin have an injury? Wendel, Dougie, Nolan, Roberts, even Cujo and Belfour, have all choosen to keep playing until their bodies won't let them or no one wants them. But Mats' body seems willing (and clearly he's in demand), it's his desire that's in question. I find this very curious and concerning. It's not the way I want to see him be remembered, but it's not exactly the kind of guy I want on my team either.

bkblades said...

eyebeleaf, I feel essentially the same way you do about Mats. You just wrote it in a much better way than I could have said. Furthermore, for all this talk of loyalty, even I remember my all time favourite player, Doug Gilmour, asked to be traded because he didn't want to stick with a rebuilding team. Fletcher pulled off a great move considering that Gilmour made no secret about not wanting to be on the team.

As for this supposed "will he or won't he" dance, I'm surprised how many people are still taken aback by Sundin's decision. Sundin has always made playing hockey in a year by year manner, and I remember quite clearly that he did the exact same thing last year. This isn't new. Sundin continually chooses these 1 to 2 year deals so he can take the whole offseason to assess whether he wants to play again. Is it a power issue? Maybe. But again, it isn't like Sundin has never done this before.

To be honest, desire is the least of my worries with Sundin. Seeing it another way, if Sundin took this amount of time to decide on his playing career, there's no way he gives less than full effort when or if he returns. If he didn't want to play, Sundin would have just quit and retired a long time ago. I just don't see Sundin playing for another year at all if he's not willing to fully commit himself.

Culinarian said...

"By never surrounding Sundin with the talent he deserved to play with"
Whatever do you mean? Are you saying the likes of Jonas Hoglund and Robert Riechel are not good enough to play with Mats???

Bite your tongue

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sundin is probably the best player to ever play for the Leafs. This is sacrilege: I know. But I have seen Ted Kennedy and Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich and Carl Brewer. They were all very good. Mats Sundin is better!

If we are talking goalies, I would say the Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk were probably better but not by the time they played here.

Mats Sundin has carried the team for years and has been criticized for not being Doug Gilmour or Wendell Clark.

He has never criticized his coach or teammates and he has led the team in scoring perpetually. He has always conducted himself with dignity and players from the team have praised his leadership skills.

Why would we listen to Bob McCown, Damien Cox or Jim Kelly? When did they demonstrate any knowledge of hockey? And Coach Cherry has won as many Stanley Cups as I have.