Mats Sundin is expected to announce his intentions for next season on Friday, a full 125 days after he played his last meaningful hockey game.
Well, at least nobody can accuse Sundin of rushing into anything. So far, Sundin has turned down legitimate overtures from three teams – the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks – putting all three of them in a holding pattern over the summer while they await his decision.
(By the way, isn’t it a little interesting that Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne, who have both had infinitely more successful careers than Sundin, are in exactly the same position as Sundin and nobody mentions anything about them?)
And while the indecision has many scratching their heads, Sundin has earned the right to ruminate for as long as he wants. He has proven by his indecision that neither money nor playing for a contender is a motivating factor in all of this. Otherwise he would have made the decision the moment either the Canadiens (contender) or the Canucks (money) made their offers.
When Sundin says he honestly doesn’t know whether he wants to play next season, there is absolutely no reason to believe, given his track record over the years, he is not telling the truth 100 percent.
Nobody has the inside track on this one, but the betting here is that Sundin either retires or stays with the Maple Leafs on another one-year deal with a no-movement clause.
There are those who are a lot closer to the situation than I am who maintain Sundin is leaning away from offers that, on the surface, should be a lot more enticing than a return to the Maple Leafs; a team that promises to be no better than mediocre and will be brought up to that level because they have one of the top goalies in the NHL and one of the best technical and teaching coaches in the game.
First, let’s deal with Vancouver. Shortly after the free agency period opened July 1, the Canucks boldly presented Sundin with a two-year, $20 million offer, one that would make him the highest-paid player in the NHL and one that is unheard of for a player older than 35 under the new collective bargaining agreement.
But Sundin has had significant hip problems over the past couple of seasons. It was discovered he had a torn labrum in his hip after the 2006-07 season and while it did not require surgery and has not kept Sundin out of the lineup, he is concerned about the well-being of his hip with all the travel that is required by a west coast team and is apparently being advised that signing with Vancouver might not be his best option.
As far as Montreal is concerned, Sundin is apparently quite honestly having trouble seeing himself wearing a Canadiens sweater after all his years with the Maple Leafs. If so, it’s a noble gesture in an era when most players see themselves as nothing more than hired guns who have no problem turning their backs on their teams for the right price.
But if you believe some of the whispers out there, at this stage of his career, Sundin has no interest in going to a team where he will be placed under intense pressure to lead a team to the Stanley Cup, which would undoubtedly be the case in Montreal, where Sundin would instantly be installed as the Canadiens’ No. 1 center ahead of Tomas Plekanec and Saku Koivu.
Those who know Sundin maintain he is content with winning the Olympic gold medal in 2006 and three World Championships and doesn’t believe his NHL career needs to be defined by whether or not he wins a Stanley Cup. And with $74 million in career earnings, he doesn’t see the need to pad his bank account with the ridiculous amount the Canucks are willing to pay him.
That leaves either retirement or the Maple Leafs and given Sundin’s agent recently said he thinks Sundin will play next season, the smart money is on the Maple Leafs.
But what mystifies some in the hockey world – present company included – is why the Leafs are interested in having Sundin come back. It could have something to do with the Leafs always, always, always making the easy decision and taking the path of least resistance.
The more difficult and potentially long-term beneficial decision would have been to do what the Green Bay Packers are doing with Brett Favre. The Leafs could simply tell Sundin, “Look, Mats. You have been wonderful for the organization and we thank you for everything you’ve done. Your number will be up in the rafters someday, but instead of just paying lip service to going in a different direction, we actually mean it this time. We’re rebuilding and we think relying on you the way we have over the years will take ice time and leadership away from players we think need to develop. We’re not going anywhere anyway.”
But no, if Sundin decides he wants to return to the Leafs, they will once again accept him with open arms and an open checkbook. Sundin’s presence, meanwhile, will ensure the Leafs remain precisely what they have been for the past two years – not good enough to make the playoffs and not bad enough to get a top-five draft pick.
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