September 16, 2008

The Sundin Haters Keep Hating

The cause celebre of the media and bloggers these days is to question the leadership of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. Funny, I thought we had buried this topic years ago.

I guess not. New Leafs head coach Ron Wilson didn't mention Sundin by name, but it was clear he had Mats in mind, among others, when he said the Leafs have lacked leadership the last three years.

Bloggers like Down Goes Brown (quel surprise!) and TorontoSportsMedia's Weblog have picked up on the issue of Sundin's apparent lack of leadership. 

Of course, Sundin's tenure in Toronto is now only defined by the last three shitty years, and everything else has been thrown out the window. That's how it works here in Toronto. When things were going well and the team was making the playoffs, Sundin's leadership was never in question. He proved his worth and he always had the unequivocal support of his teammates.

But, post-lockout, the Leafs have been a mess. And it's Mats' fault. Because he ain't no leader.

Oh, so that's why the Leafs have missed the playoffs the last three years. It was Mats. He was just enjoying himself and letting the dressing room become a "country club." It had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, post-lockout, have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league, at or near the bottom in goals against average, save percentage, and penalty killing. Gotcha.

Let's take a look at some sobering statistics from the last three years, starting with last season and moving backwards, with the teams NHL ranking in parenthesis. All stats are courtesy of ESPN, the worldwide leader in mother fuckin' sports.


GAA: 3.12 (27th)
Save %age:  89.3 (29th)
PK %age: 78.2 (29th)


GAA: 3.20 (25th)
Save %age: 88.8 (27th)
PK %age: 78.5 (27th)


GAA: 3.21 (20th)
Save %age: 89.5 (18th)
PK %age: 80% (23rd)

Those numbers should keep you up at night. I'm a huge Vesa Toskala fan, but it's pretty fucked up to see a higher save percentage in 05/06 when Ed Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin split the goaltending duties. In retrospect, Raycrap's 87.6 save percentage is largely to blame. Seriously, Colorado, good luck with that shit.

I'll be the first to admit that Toskala's 90.4 save percentage last season was good, but by no means great. He's got to be better. But so does the team in front of him. On way too many nights, he had no help, and was left out to dry. But that was Sundin's fault, of course. 

Looking at those numbers from the last three years, it's clear that the Leafs' struggles began and ended in the dressing room, and because Sundin wore the "C" on his shoulder, the onus falls on him. The team's struggles had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, under Paul Maurice, couldn't keep the puck out of their net, had no idea how to kill a God damn penalty, and received AHL-calibre goaltending from their starting goalies in 05/06 and 06/07, and beer league calibre goaltending from their backup in 07/08.

It wasn't enough that Mats was producing at better than a point-per-game rate post lockout - 78 points in 70 games in 05/06, 76 points in 75 games in 06/07, and 78 points in 74 games last season. I guess he should have been out there killing every penalty, and should have been on the ice for the entire third period, when the Leafs loved to blow their leads. You know that +17 rating he sported last year? Yeah, that one. Fuck it. Just toss it out the window. Or ignore it. You pick.

I guess, in retrospect, at some point over the last three years the coaching staff should have just handed Mats the pads and put him between the pipes. Maybe that would have been enough for people in this city to finally put the bloody leadership questions to rest.

The statistics above tell you all you need to know about your Toronto Maple Leafs. Fuck leadership. Fuck questioning Mats Sundin. Enough already. Until this team learns how to play some defence, learns how to kill penalties, or stops taking them altogether, and begins to support their goaltender, they will not make the playoffs. When the team is able to play with confidence in its own end, and is not afraid to take a penalty in a hockey game, leadership, regardless of who is wearing the "C," - even if it is, aghast, a Swedish fellow - will take care of its God damn self.


Down Goes Brown said...

There's no question that the Leafs mess is the result of a lot more than Mats Sundin. And for the most part, almost nobody (OK, except maybe me) has questioned his level of play.

The argument over the past few days has been about leadership, and leadership only. And I think it's a fair question. Heck, I was asking it months ago. There's mounting evidence that Sundin has been greatly over-rated as a leader for years, no matter how many made-up awards his golfing buddies give him.

That certainly doesn't let everyone else off the hook. When they finally write the book on the last few years of Leafs misery, "Sundin is a lousy leader" will barely be a footnote in between the chapters on JFJ, Peddie, and yes, embarassingly bad defence.

eyebleaf said...

I don't think it's a fair question because the stats I've provided show that leadership, while yes it is a problem, is and should be way down on the list of what ails this team. We have much bigger problems to deal with than for Wilson to come in and question the leadership in the room. Big deal. I don't really give a hoot what goes on in the room, as long as the results are there on the ice. You can't measure leadership on the ice, but you can measure save percentage, and goals against average, and penalty killing success. When those aspects of our game are shored up, we'll be a better team, regardless of whether the leadership changes.

general borschevsky said...

Good stuff, eyebleaf.
I think Wilson's comments were more of a "goodbye" to McCabe and a warning to Kaberle. I don't think he meant specifically Sundin, but people took it that way.
Sundin was once an excellent leader, but he had help in that department: Cujo and Roberts.
The list of losers who gradually wore down Sundin's ability to be an effective leader is long: McCabe, JFJ, Ownership, Maurice, Raycroft, Wellwood...
I guess that's it - it's not about wether Sundin feels he can play anymore, it's wether Sundin feels he can lead.
That's the missing ingrediant that he can't find right now.

Marvelous Win said...

I don't really think this is a fair argument, we need a clear definition on a leader. If Sundin is not a good leader i need someone to give me either the criteria of being a good leader or an exacmple of a great leader, a great leader in life is very different then one in sports. Is jordan a great leader? is it because of the way he yells at his team and that fire and that passion? Was Gretz a great leader, he was quite? What is common between the two of them? they carry their team, Mats did that, it's not his fault no one else can score. And all those comment of Sundin with no passion. This is something that i pointed out every year to Navin, they know they didn't make the play off weeks before the last game. YET Mats is in tears after the last game every time, how is that not passion.

MF37 said...

If this is really about "leadership" (and I have my doubts) then only the men in the room can speak to what type of leader Mats is.

I have never heard or read of any coaches, players, scouts, managers, owners or other assorted hockey men question Mats' leadership. Not one.

If anyone has a first person quote to the contrary, I'd love to read it. Otherwise this is nothing more than idle chatter from the pantless classes who live in our moms' basements (me included).

Anonymous said...

A great leader?
Tony Adams.

K-fed from the 212 said...

justin timberlake, he led nsync.
go leafs go.

eyebleaf said...

I've gotta admit, Timberlake was a great leader. He took N'Sync to the top on his shoulders, while they carried a lot of dead weight. Once he departed, N'Sync fell apart. That's the sign of a good leader. Timberlake def. wore the captaincy on N'Sync. He'd make Sundin proud.