Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sundin's choice is clear, and it's the one he can't make

As the Mats Sundin saga drags on, it's getting harder and harder to imagine a happy ending. Every one of Sundin's options is looking worse by the day.

If he signs in Vancouver, he'll look like he took a big paycheque over a chance to win. If he goes to Montreal, his legacy in Toronto will be damaged if not destroyed. If he comes back to the Leafs, he'll be joining a rebuilding team that doesn't even seem to be sure it wants him. If he retires, he'll have lead several teams on all summer and then quit because he couldn't motivate himself to come back and chase a championship.

None of those scenarios may be fair, and much of the negativity will fade over time as it always does. But right now, virtually anything Sundin decides will be met with significant derision. That's his fault. He's simply let this drag on too long for it to work any other way.

There's one other option, and its one that could be a perfect fit. It's pretty clear that the best choice for Sundin right now is to make no choice at all. Sundin should follow the Neidermayer Plan -- take some time off, rest up, and then consider a mid-season return.

The move would give Sundin extra time to consider his future. When (and if) he did decide to return, he'd be 100% healthy and rested. He'd be able to consult the standings to ensure he was headed to a legitimate contender, and might even have more suitors since his cap hit would be lower. Sure, it would cost him a half season's salary. But it sure seems like money isn't Sundin's focus these days.

All things considered, its obvious that Sundin should follow in the footsteps of Neidermayer, Selanne and Forsberg and take an extended vacation.

There's one problem: he can't. Not without seeming like an enormous hypocrite.

Remember that at the 2008 deadline, Sundin was very clear on this issue:

"I have never believed in the concept of a rental player. It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June." - Mats Sundin, February 2008
It was an unusual reason, to say the least. Many found his stance refreshing in an era where star players regularly insist on being parachuted onto the roster of ready-made contenders in order to coattail-ride their way to a ring.

I didn't see it that way, and I mocked him for it at the time. In hindsight, I still don't buy it. The "October through June" logic sounds like an afterthought, the kind of thing a good PR person would come up with to cover up for an athlete who was having a good sulk.

But whether he meant it or not, Sundin's statement has painted him into a corner. And six months later, it may mean that the only good option he had left is off the table.


  1. welcome back.

    sundin won't pull a niedermayer, he said he wants to be in training camp if he's going to come back. so a decision will come before training camp starts.

    a good PR move? i don't know. maybe i'm too pro sundin, or you're jaded. i guess it's difficult to take athletes at face value anymore, but i can take what sundin says at face value, because he's always been the consummate professional while here in toronto. why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

  2. why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

    I'm more likely to give the benefit of the doubt when an athlete is speaking from the heart, standing in front of the cameras and notepads and looking people in the eye.

    I have trouble with prepared statements. I've seen how those things get made, with all the carefully chosen words and tweaks and edits -- sometimes the person issuing the statement hasn't even seen it. When anyone (not just Sundin) goes that root, I have trouble believing there's a lot of honesty involved.

    maybe i'm too pro sundin, or you're jaded.

    My guess is it's a little of column A, a little of column B.

  3. didn't sunday say the "October through June" bit in February, in front of the cameras, notepads, and lights?

    how do you know it wasn't from the heart?

  4. The October/June quote was from the statement released by his agent. He may have also said it personally, I can't remember.

    I'm not claiming that I know what he's thinking or that I can read his mind. He certainly could be sincere. I'm just sceptical.

  5. i'm pretty sure he said it during all the madness leading up to the deadline...

    it doesn't matter what he does or says, your skepticism never ceases. and that's fair, that's your call. you thought it was all about the money, you were wrong, it wasn't. and now you're saying he's painted himself into a corner b/c he hasn't made a decision yet, a decision that he doesn't need to make until training camp.

    sundin's in a lose-lose situation on all fronts. no matter what he does.

  6. I agree that Sundin will be derided no matter what decision he comes to. But that derision has way more to do with:
    a) the heterogenity of Leafs Nation (who pretty much agree on the Kaberle contract and that's about it); and
    b)the general idiocy of the media covering the Leafs/hockey.

    As for written/prepared statements - given the rapciousness and vapidity of the media, if Sundin was my client I'd advise him to issue carefully prepared formal statements and avoid "speaking from the heart."

    Prepared statements are clear, transparent (everyone can get the source quote), fair, and - most importantly - it limits the media's ability to take statements out of context and twist things to suit their own, often bizarre, perspective.

    I don't see how signing with Montreal is a big deal. So many other Leaf "greats" played out portions of their career elsewhere: Clark, Palmateer, Vaive, Gilmour, Keon, Andreychuk, Sittler, Salming, Mogilny, Roberts, Nieuwendyk and on and on...Cujo may be the only Leaf who got flak for going elsewhere, but even he's been welcomed back into the Blue and White tent.

    I also don't see how signing in Vancouver is a knock. With Sundin in the line-up, they'll at least have a pretty good shot at the post-season, which is far more than one can say about the Leafs.

  7. Totally agree, MF37. Gilmour went to Montreal as a free agent, when he could have signed with any other team. He also played for the hated Sabres. But Gilmour gets a free pass in this town, so I can't say I'm surprised.

    I honestly think it would be fun to see Sundin in the bleu, blanc et rouge. They've got great offensive talent, and a building that is arguably one of the most best in the NHL. Sure, the "ole ole ole" chant is weak as hell but, hey, you can't win 'em all.

    And Vancouver, with the twins and Demitra in the mix, and all-world Luongo, are a lot more than we can offer. He's got options. And we're definitely not the best one. But here's hoping heart wins out over mind, and money, on this one.

  8. To be honest, my issue with Montreal has nothing to do with the rivalry. The days where players took rivalries as seriously as fans are long gone, and if a rival makes the best offer then he can go there.

    The issue is that the Habs made the best offer for him at the deadline. For him to turn down a trade that Fletcher was begging him to take, and then go ahead and sign with that team a few months later, would be a slap in the face to Leaf fans. I'd feel exactly the same if the team was Minnesota or Nashville.

    sundin's in a lose-lose situation on all fronts. no matter what he does.

    Definitely true. But he has to take most of the blame for that, because he's the one who decided to let this drag on forever.

  9. sundin didn't turn down the trade, he exercised his no-trade clause. there's a difference. and you know exactly why he did what he did, because he maintained throughout that he did not want to be a rental player. signing with montreal now would mean that he wouldn't be a rental player, therefore clearing the way for him to become a canadien.

    so what's the issue? it's pretty cut and dry. dude did not want to be a rental player, so he exercised his no-trade clause. regardless of where he was going or that fletcher was "begging" him...sundin had no obligation to do us any favours. and he didn't. and good on him. now he's free to go and sign with any team he wants, even if it is montreal. because no matter where he signs, he will not be a rental player.

  10. Agree re Montreal, not that he owes the Leafs anything but given that the Leafs have treated him well and with respect (the fans and press maybe not) then it would have been appropriate.

    Someone must know if he is actually going through an appropriate pre season workout or not. If he isnt then he isnt coming back this year.

    The fact that it is taking the Swedish Hamlet this long should tell him something, he really doesnt WANT to come back this year. Take the time off and see how retirement fits, if it does great, if not then he has a way out of the statements he made.

    At this stage, and I like Sundin a great deal, who cares if he comes back to the Leafs. Unlike Berger, who wants Fletcher to say it I dont think you need to, its not like they are going to anything else with Sundins 8-10 million in cap anyway. Save it for a rainy day.

  11. eyebeleaf...

    The problem is that "I don't want to be a rental player" is a lousy reason to refuse a trade. As I pointed out back in February, there's a long list of players far more accomplished than Sundin who have been rentals. I honestly can't find another example of a major pro athlete taking the "no-rentals" stance.

    In my opinion, there's really only two good reasons for not waiving a NTC. The first is that you want to stay on a winning team, which obviously didn't apply. The second is that you want to stay with a particular city/team. But clearly that's not the case either if he turns around and signs elsewhere a few months later.

    So basically the Leafs were in a spot where they desperately needed their franchise player to accept a trade, and they had the bad luck of running into (apparently) the one and only guy who happens to have this arbitrary no rental policy.

    Now obviously Sundin signed a deal with a NTC and he can refuse to waive for any reason he wants. He can refuse a deal to Montreal because he doesn't like the color red if he wants to, and he would be within his rights.

    I've never argued that he didn't have the right to refuse based on any criteria he wanted. But I can still call it a dumb reason.

  12. i don't care that no other athlete has employed the "no rental policy" does that make any difference? in my opinion, that's a weak argument. you're absolutely entitled to your opinion that it's a dumb reason, and i know that many share your sentiments, but to back it up with the fact that no one has done it before...i don't know, that just doesn't sit well with me. just because he's the only one doesn't make him wrong.

    and this became a lose-lose for mats the day he exercised the no-trade back in february. doesn't matter that he still hasn't made a decision. again, no decision really needs to be made until training camp. if that's "forever" to you, so be it, that's your opinion.

  13. A "no rental policy" may be a dumb reason to refuse a trade/invoke a no-trade clause, but none of us have any idea if it's a unique reason.

    With 1/5th of the league now sporting a no-trade/no-movement clause (120 out of 700 players) it wouldn't surprise me if there are dozens and dozens of trades scuttled each season that we regular fans have no idea of.

    Also, does anyone really believe any of the usual reasons for refusing a trade:this team's still got a chance; my family is here; we love the community, etc.?

    It would be fantastic if players came out and were down right honest as to why they refused to be dealt: the Islanders suck; I don't want to play in a fishbowl; there are no good hockey groupies in that town; Keenan's an ass...