TORONTO – Mats Sundin is a man that looks like he’s enjoying his time off.
The big Swede returned to his longtime hockey home looking fit and tanned on Thursday, and admitted he was no closer to deciding if he’ll play in the NHL again.
In fact, the former Maple Leafs captain indicated he’s spent far less time worrying about his future than many others around the hockey world.
“It’s been a pretty relaxing summer actually,” he said. “I’ve tried not to think about it too much to be honest with you. I’ve just tried to get away from the game a little bit.
“The last few seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs have been tough years for us. I’ve actually been feeling pretty good about the situation that I’ve been in – for the first time in a long time not being under contract and being able to really try to feel out what I want to do with my future.”
What was all the fuss about?
In both Sweden and Canada, there have been numerous reports about Sundin’s soft deadlines and difficult decisions but it’s pretty clear now that he’s no closer to making a firm choice than he was when the season ended in early April.
And he fully intends to take all the time it takes to make up his mind.
“I played 17 years in this league,” said Sundin. “I just hope that people respect or can understand if I’m not ready to make that decision to continue with my hockey career.
“I think I’ve earned the right to make that decision when I feel it’s good for myself. I think it’s impossible for anyone else to make that decision.”
In the meantime, he’ll skate at Air Canada Centre for what could be the final time Friday as part of the Festival Cup charity hockey game in support of Right To Play. Fans of Sundin might want to shell out the $25 it costs for a ticket because he didn’t sound like a guy that was about to re-sign with the rebuilding Maple Leafs.
The 37-year-old is coming off a solid season that saw him amass 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games. However, the Maple Leafs missed the playoffs for a third straight year.
All that losing has taken a toll.
“I felt great about playing hockey last year but all that disappears when you’re not having a winning season and when you’re not competing in the playoffs because that’s really all that matters,” he said.
While saying he was “humbled” and “flattered” by the interest he’s drawn from other NHL teams since July 1, Sundin clearly cherishes the time he’s spent as a Maple Leaf. That complicates the situation because his only chance to win a Stanley Cup next season is probably in another city.
No matter what happens, he’ll always feel a tie to Toronto.
“This is the best hockey town to play in, in the world,” said Sundin. “Right now the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have the best hockey team in the world. The fans in Toronto certainly deserve to have a team that competes for the Stanley Cup every year.
“Whatever happens to me – whether I’m not going to play anymore or whatever happens – I think Toronto’s always the team in my heart. It will also be, whatever happens. When I retire, whenever that happens, that’s not going to change.”
One person who understands what Sundin is going through is Doug Gilmour, another former Maple Leafs captain.
Gilmour’s career looked like it was over when he left the Buffalo Sabres towards the end of the 2000-01 season. He didn’t make a firm decision about his future over the summer and ended up signing with Montreal in early October.
That could be the kind of thing that happens with Sundin.
“As training camp starts, he’ll figure it out,” said Gilmour. “And as the season starts, that’s when he’ll know within two, three weeks what he wants to do.”
The only certainty is that Sundin won’t take any half measures. If he decides to return, he wants to be a top line player that produces offensively – something he’s done consistently during his 17-year career.
The decision before him essentially comes down to whether he’s willing to do what it takes for that to happen.
“It’s a lifestyle that is very intense,” Sundin said of playing in the NHL. “It’s all hockey. Once training camp starts, you do nothing but eat and sleep hockey and you play every day.
“You have to make sure you’re committed for that.”
And if he’s not committed to playing hockey, how will he spend his time?
“I don’t know,” Sundin said with a laugh. “I have no idea.
“I haven’t even thought about that either.”