The Montreal Canadiens need Mats Sundin.
They need his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame up the middle to finally clog what’s been a gaping hole in their lineup for what feels like forever. The Habs need Sundin so they can finally cart out a No. 1 center who has sizable attributes beyond his heart.
Montreal needs Sundin because he’s still got tread on the tires, he’s been a durable player over the course of his career and he has two more years of top-level hockey in him. And the Habs need to pay him as such.
The Canadiens don’t need Sundin to come in and rack up 90 points in the regular season. They need him to help ensure they get back into the playoffs in a competitive Eastern Conference. They need the big Swede because, once in the playoffs, he still has the ability, for a two-month stretch, to go head-to-head with the best pivots in the league and impose his will on them.
From October to April, Sundin might not be one of the top five centers in the East. But, in the limits of a seven-game series, he’s still got the potential to line up with Jason Spezza, Mike Richards and, yes, even Sidney Crosby, and emerge as the better player. For a finite moment in time – like one spring playoff run – he still has that ability.
The Canadiens need Sundin for his big-game experience and prowess. Large as he is, Sundin is the type of player whose presence tends to grow late in games. When defensemen ratchet up the physical play, when loose pucks are harder to find and when offensive zone space is difficult to annex, Sundin can be a difference-maker.
Sundin needs the Canadiens because he’s got game left and a Cup to chase. Fabulous as his post-playing life will be, it would still be a shame to enter into it prematurely. Sundin needs the Habs because, with him, they climb into the level of a legit contender.
He needs to remember there’s a precedent for this kind of Original Six swap; a man he’s often been compared to throughout his time in Toronto is fellow big man Frank Mahovlich, who came to Montreal via Detroit and found the bleu, blanc et rouge to his liking - especially after winning two Cups in his new home.
What else does Sundin need to know?
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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