May 30, 2008

Much Ado About Mats

Much has been made in regards to Mats Sundin's comments about his hockey future. Will he stay? Will he go? Will he hang up the skates? No one, not even Sundin apparently, knows.

Sundin and his agent met with GM Cliff Fletcher last night and the situation today remains as clear as mud. Unfortunately, it looks like this situation is going to drag on for another few weeks until Sundin figures his shit out.

Am I a little peeved at his request for more time? Absolutely. The Leafs have been off since the second week of bloody April. Mats has had plenty of time to think about his future. Is he entitled to as much time as he needs? Yes, he most certainly is. Does his request for more time mean he'll hit the free agent market? I don't know, and I'm fucking done with all these questions I'm answering myself.

Those who read this tiny corner of the interweb, and those who know me well, know that I'm a staunch supporter of Mats Sundin. Always have been. Always will be. Sundin is, as the kids say, my dawg. I support him until the end. He's made a lasting impression on my soul. While I haven't been able to convince the woman to name our unborn son "Mats" - she's, umm, not too fond of the idea - I'm pretty sure we'll be able to reach a compromise: the middle name. Something Mats Vaswani. I like it already. It just rolls off the tongue.

Anyway, come September Sundin may no longer be a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. After refusing to waive his no-trade clause and leave the city back in March, Sundin left the door open to signing with another team come July 1st, when asked by the media about his immediate future. He said the odds were "50/50" in returning to Toronto. Sundin is, clearly, a genius. No shit they're fifty-fifty! He's either back, or he's not. His insight is remarkable.

His comments, of course, set some Leafs fans off. Why? I'm not sure. What they were expecting him to say - 100%? That it as an absolute certainty he'll be back in the blue and white? Yeah, that would work real well for him in contract negotiations.

Sundin's comments didn't irk me. In fact, I thought they made a lot of sense. Seriously, can you blame him for keeping the door open to other options? Are the Leafs really the most attractive team for a 37-year-old aging superstar? I certainly don't think so. Sundin has, of course, made it publicly known that his dream is to retire a Maple Leaf. It will definitely be interesting to see if he's a man of his word. I most certainly believe he is.

Do his comments have anything to do with him not waiving his no-trade clause a couple of months ago? No, frankly, they don't. Sundin refused to waive his no-trade clause because he didn't want to be a rental player. The two issues are separate. If he signs a contract with, say, the Detroit Red Wings, problem solved. He's not a rental player, he'll be with the Wings all year (to go through the "process"), he'll have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and he'll get to do it on his terms. What's there to be mad about?

It's my belief, and I've made it well known, that Sundin owes the Leafs, and us the fans, nothing. His contract with Toronto expired and as most smart people would do, he's likely going to hit the open market and see what type of offers come his way. As much as you and I love the Maple Leafs, we'd do the same. He'd be an idiot not to, really. Yes, Sundin's made a lot of money and lives a lofty lifestyle thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he owes the team nothing. He doesn't owe them any players in return, or any draft picks in return, or a home team discount on a new contract. Sundin needs only to look after himself, and that's what I'm sure he's going to do. How can I be mad at him for that?

Personally, I want him to come back. As if I actually had to tell you that. There's no better Maple Leaf - ever - and Sundin is the perfect man to drive this bus back to some modicum of respectability.

However, expectations in Toronto are going to be low next season, and probably the season after that. Pretty damn low. Unless Cliff Fletcher, or whoever the next GM of this team is, is able to pull off some David Blaine type shit, the Leafs are going to stink for a while. It's the nature of the business. It's clear the Leafs don't represent the best opportunity to win for Sundin right now. While I think it's crazy to think that Sundin doesn't care about winning, I think that at the end of the day it'll be hard for him to put another jersey over his shoulders. I tend to believe that Sundin cares about that Leafs logo, just like you and I do, and he'll come back to lead the next generation of Toronto Maple Leafs. But he's still got to keep his options open, and really that's all he's doing.

Will I be mad at, and/or hate, Sundin if he chooses to continue his career with the hated Montreal Canadiens, or Ottawa Senators, or some other franchise? While those are both nightmarish situations, the Ottawa one more so than Montreal, I don't think I'd have it in me to hate him. Both those teams offer Sundin a better opportunity right now than we do and I wouldn't be able to hate Mats for choosing to put himself first. It's something he never did in Toronto - he's been the consummate professional - and, well, maybe it's time he did.

Mats is a leader. He won the Mark Messier leadership award because when the situation was at its worst, Sundin didn't bail. He didn't pull the chute. He stuck around. He chose to try and be a part of the solution instead of taking the easy way out and abandoning ship. He is the ultimate Captain. He went down with the ship. That's leadership, folks, and that's why I want him to stick around.

I think it is a complete and utter travesty that Sundin is getting ripped on and lambasted simply for keeping his options open. This has nothing to do with the no-trade clause and his refusal to waive it! Sundin's never mentioned any teams, yet media speculation has tied both the Red Wings and les Canadiens to him already.

It must also be remembered that Sundin never made any demands during his multi-year tenure in Toronto. He never asked for the huge contracts. He never asked for super talent around him. By utilizing his no-trade clause, he used a stipulation in his contract that was negotiated on in good faith by both parties. Sundin never held this organization hostage, so why isn't he being given the same respect? It saddens me. It truly does.

I think it's an exercise in futility to rip Sundin about his future and whether to question if he'll be back. The more important question is how much Sundin is worth. If Sundin does hit the free agency market July 1st, the Leafs will be one of a number of teams to send him an offer. While the idea of trading his rights before July 1st has been thrown around, I just don't see it happening. Come on guys, this is the Leafs we're talking about here.

What's Sundin worth to you? How much should the Leafs be willing to pay him to keep him in Toronto? He made $5.5 million last season and it was one of his best in the past decade. He is what he is, and that's a point-a-game player on a team with very little offensive talent. It could easily be argued that he's in line for a raise, but I don't think that's fiscally responsible for the Leafs if they want to turn this ship around. The Leafs can't ice a more competitive team, a fucking playoff team, if they're paying Sundin upwards of $6 or $7 million dollars. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for Sundin to give Toronto a home-town discount. Remember, he owes us nothing. What I'm saying is that if he's not comfortable in coming back for around the same money he made last year, it may in fact then be time to turn the page on the Sundin era. Unless the Leafs can find a way to open up some cap space (see ya, Bryan McCabe!), and unless the team wants to be better and make the playoffs, Sundin can't be tying up a substantial portion of the salary cap. Like my man Mos Def said, "it's all mathematics."

It's clear that due to the fact that Sundin is off the idea (huge!) of being a rental player, any contract will have to include another no-trade clause. I know, it's the last thing the Leafs should be handing out, but I think Sundin will refuse to sign anywhere unless he gets one. Here's what I suggest: Fletch and co. offer Mats a one-year deal, with a no-trade clause, for $5.75 million. Nothing more, nothing less, and leave it on the table come July 1st. If Sundin gets $6 million from the Habs and chooses to take a drive east on the 401, I wish him nothing but the best and thank him for his tremendous service. He will live on in my heart, as a Maple Leaf, forever. No hard feelings.

With the Stanley Cup finals soon to wrap (Wings in 6), the real drama is just getting started. I look forward to a summer of defending Sundin. Anything less would be uncivilized.

And while I can wax philosophical on Mats all day long, and how he's never, ever wrong, certain happenings always seem to put things in perspective. Rest in peace, Luc Bourdon...


general borschevsky said...

What a situation! No coach, no GM, a team that hasn't made the playoffs for 3 years, a captain who has no idea if he'll be back, overpriced talent that can't be traded, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the "Boardwalk" in NHL monopoly! What a joke!

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

things can only go up from here, general.

at least that's what i keep telling myself.

Culinarian said...

Perhaps your son should be called:
Mini- Mats Vaswani

Any thing else WOULD be uncivilized.

Dan, Jr. said...

I'm betting Mats ends up playing one more season for the Leafs. He probably would really rather stay in Toronto than spend his last season somewhere else.

Who do you think the Leafs take with pick #7 in the Entry Draft? You've got some good players to choose from.

I wish I knew who we should be looking at, but with the Cap's not picking until #23, who knows?