So tell us, Vancouver: What does it feel like to finish second? What does it feel like to be the second-most handsome young man who could have asked Mats Sundin to the dance? The really good looking guy, the one Mats was hoping and pining for, had too many other commitments in place and simply couldn’t come up with a way to squeeze poor Mats onto their roster. That’s right, isn’t it? Can we reach any other conclusion?
Based on the constant, breathless news updates of the past six months, we are left to surmise that Vancouver didn’t “win” the Mats-Sundin-Bore-North-America-and-the-Hockey-World-to-Death-Sweepstakes so much as they defaulted into “first” place. Mats, so the media told us, wanted to play on Broadway, but the Rangers didn’t have the salary cap space. Thus, it appears, Vancouver finished as the first alternate and was rewarded for its patience.
Does it matter? Does anyone care? Should we care? Mats said it’s not true. Mats said in a statement that once he decided not to retire, Vancouver was his first choice, or something to that effect.
Should we believe him? When he could have helped leave a true legacy for the Maple Leafs last season by allowing ‘Trader’ Cliff Fletcher to wheel and deal him to the highest bidder at the trade deadline, restocking a team badly in need of good prospects and draft picks, Mats bravely told the hockey universe it was all about “the journey.” It was critical he be a part of a team from training camp and go through all the trials and tribulations of a season in order to validate a Stanley Cup championship.
Or was it his love of the Leafs and their fans that mattered most? After all, at last year’s trade deadline, Captain Mats still hadn’t given up on the outside chance the Leafs would make the playoffs. Mats simply had to stay in Toronto and carry the franchise on his back, hobbling and limping in an attempt to make the post-season for the first time since 2004.
The talk was altruistic then. Now, after this six-month charade, the entire process rings hollow. Cemented to his stall in Toronto, Sundin watched as the Leafs finished out of the post-season yet again. No retooling, no reloading, no rebuilding with a basket full of picks and prospects, (and make no mistake, the Silver Fox managing the Leafs at the time would have parlayed Sundin into a bonanza for the future) just more of the same.
While it may be too much to ask, inasmuch as it will require NHLPA approval, I hope the GMs make this issue a top priority going forward and recommend the NHL Board of Governors set a hard and firm deadline, sometime around Nov. 1, perhaps, whereby UFAs must be signed or are ineligible to play that season. If the conundrum of retirement is legitimate and difficult, he would still have at least five full months following his last game to decide whether to retire or return. That seems more than sufficient, even though Mats would have us believe it took him almost eight months to decide. The time has come to end the painful and senseless drama we just endured.
Oh, and good luck, Vancouver! You “won,” I guess. By the way, did Mats leave enough on the table to get you into the Oh-No, Here-We-Go-Again Peter Forsberg derby?
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.