It can’t end like this, can it? It shouldn’t.
If Mats Sundin is the man of integrity we believe he is, and the Maple Leafs are sincere in their publicly expressed desire to bring him back, the 37-year-old will return to the “center of the hockey universe” for a swan song season, a chance to say a proper good-bye and give a fan base starved for gratification something to feel tingly about.
There’s little reason to believe the Leafs will be significantly improved on the ice next season with or without Sundin. They don’t figure to have much cap space with which to play in free agency; and even if they did, the supporting cast isn’t yet contending caliber, so why waste the coin now on an expensive newcomer?
The Leafs should be in a re-building mindset, not entertaining visions of grandeur. The playoffs would be a nice bonus, perhaps, but a better outcome would be another high draft pick to add to this off-season’s projected bounty.
So why keep Sundin? Why should he want to be part of another mediocre season?
For starters, he has become the epitome of the franchise, a respected icon, a leader by example, and teams in re-building mode need veterans of his ilk to bequeath their essence. It’s part of a successful overhaul formula.
From Sundin’s perspective, his reticence to be moved at the deadline was, he said, about not wanting to be a “hired gun”; that being parachuted into a situation would make any victory seem hollow.
The reality is he would have been with any new franchise nearly four months (March, April, May and part of June) before hoisting a Cup. Would another few months, the extra time he’d have by signing before the start of a season, make any real difference?
If we’re reading Sundin correctly, he believes there are more important things than winning a championship: friendships and relationships, loyalty, his legacy, and, most importantly, his happiness. We can’t argue with that.
This season was a tumultuous one for Sundin, one in which he excelled on the ice, but was nevertheless tainted by a trade deadline soap opera and his season-ending groin injury.
Sundin and Maple Leafs fans owe each other a gracious parting, the type of happy ending that is all too uncommon in today’s pro sports world.
I’m a stats geek at heart and love to surf the ‘Net, unearthing gems. Here are a few that made me go “hmmmm” recently:
• Alex Ovechkin has fired an astounding 174 more shots towards opposing goalies than any other player. Entering the final weekend of play, he led the league with 441 shots on goal and 196 missed shots. Henrik Zetterberg’s combination (355 and 108) ranks second.
• The Blues’ Ryan Johnson is the runaway leader in blocked shots among forwards with 102, 27 more than Chris Drury’s second-place tally of 75. Johnson also tops all forwards in total shorthanded time on ice.
• The Detroit Red Wings have a far worse record, in terms of points percentage, against Central Division rivals (.565) than the rest of the NHL (.780). That explodes the myth the Wings fattened their Presidents’ Trophy points total against weak divisional foes.
• Bryan McCabe may have had a sub-par season, but the Maple Leafs actually had a significantly better record with the defenseman in the lineup (26-19-8, .567 points percentage) than when he was out with injury (10-15-3, .411).
• According to espn.com not one NHL team finished with an average home attendance below 80 percent of capacity. That’s remarkable because there are typically five or six clubs that fall below 80 – last season there were seven. And it ain’t because tickets are getting any cheaper. Team Marketing Report research shows the average ticket price rose 5.2 percent this year over last.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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