Before I explain why Mats Sundin was wrong not to waive his no-trade clause and make the Toronto Maple Leafs better than he ever could on the ice – at least, at this stage of his career – allow me to make one thing clear.
I think the world of the Leafs captain. In nearly a decade of being around the team, I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet passion that bubbles underneath Sundin’s calm exterior. Win or lose, he almost always is available to the media after games, and he’s easily one of the classiest NHLers I’ve ever encountered.
Still, that doesn’t make Sundin’s decision to stay in Toronto any more defendable. In fact, by sticking around, he has irrevocably tarnished an image he actually could have improved had he agreed to be dealt.
Think of how this story would’ve sounded in the Toronto dailies: long-suffering captain goes counter to his heart’s desire and accepts a trade that guarantees his beloved team would improve far faster than it would’ve had he stayed in town.
If that wouldn’t qualify as a Hallmark Moment, I don’t know what would.
Instead, the tale now is one of selfishness disguised as loyalty, of Sundin’s short-term personal gain for the Leafs’ long-term institutional pain. And that’s a tortuously familiar story for any Leafs fan who has watched the organization’s short-sightedness short-circuit its ability to perennially contend for a Stanley Cup.
Again, I’m trying very hard here not to paint Sundin with the villain’s moustache. Like any player fortunate enough to land a no-trade clause, he was perfectly within his rights to dig in his heels and remain a part of the team and city he clearly adores.
Unfortunately, in the NHL’s salary-capped world, there is little room for that kind of romantic sentiment. Every sliver of available cap room counts in a big way, and the ugly truth is that a team with Sundin on it hasn’t been capable of even making the playoffs the last two years, let alone winning a championship. His presence in Toronto’s lineup this year or in years to come likely won’t be a difference-maker, either.
In the end, Sundin revealed himself to be a Leafs fan in heart, spirit and action, someone willing to set reality aside in the hope that hope remains.
There is much to admire about such a philosophy, but let’s not pretend it’s not a double-edged sword.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News’ online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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