Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why it's OK to boo Mats Sundin

This is a cross-post of my Sundin article at Pension Plan Puppets. For the other side of the Sundin coin, see eyebleaf's post.

Let's start off by making one thing clear: Mats Sundin had every contractual right to exercise his no-trade clause. And throughout the entire drawn-out ordeal that saw him finally wind up in Vancouver, he never once broke a rule or violated the letter of any contract. Nobody has ever argued otherwise.

If that's all you think anyone had a right to expect from the long-time Leafs captain, you can stop reading. You have no reason to object to anything Mats Sundin did and I won't try to convince you otherwise.

You certainly won't be alone. The media stars who brag about not being fans are right there with you. And so are plenty of fans who've grown cynical about big time pro sports over the years, and not without reason.

On the other hand, after fourteen years and almost 1,000 points and millions of dollars and a few long playoff runs and who knows how many cuts and bruises and standing ovations, you might think that there should be something else. You might think that both sides owed the other a little more than that.

And if so, then you have every right to boo Mats Sundin on Saturday.

Mats Sundin was the best player on the roster for his entire 14-year career in Toronto, and belongs in the conversation for greatest Leaf of all-time. He played hard. He put up numbers. He never complained, never held out, never got into trouble and didn't rock the boat. He did everything a fan could have asked of him.

And based on that, Sundin earned the right to expect a few things from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He earned the right to control his future. He earned the right to choose whether to stay or go. He earned the right to finish his career in Toronto, whether that meant now or years down the road. He also earned the right to walk away. He earned the right to chase a Stanley Cup with a contender of his choice.

Mats Sundin had earned a lot in 14 years. The Leafs held up their end of the deal.

By all accounts, Cliff Fletcher's pitch to Sundin went something like this: If you want to go, if you want to take a shot at a championship, then we'll make it happen. And yes, that's probably what the organization would prefer you to do. But if you'd rather stay, if you really can't imagine playing anywhere else, then let's get to work on an extension. It's up to you. You're driving the bus.

But Sundin owed something too -- to the organization, to the man who brought him to Toronto all those years ago, and especially to the fans.

He owed everyone a decision.

Stay or go. Your call. You've more than earned the right to make your choice.

But make the decision when it needs to be made. Make your decision about your long-term future as a Maple Leaf before the trade deadline.

We all know what we got instead.

Sundin refused to waive. He fed us his infamous "October-through-June" story. He talked about how he couldn't imagine playing anywhere else.

Then he refused to talk extension. Privately, some say, he sulked and pouted about even being asked to consider waiving. In hindsight, it sounds like he already had his eye on the door the day the deadline passed. Or maybe, as we'd come to find out, he just doesn't like to make tough decisions.

Look, Mats Sundin is a grown man. He knew what was coming. He had all season to think about his decision. The scenario that was unfolding -- that a chronically last place team would listen to offers for its aging star -- was so predictable and obvious that fans and media had been discussing it since the summer. Mats Sundin knew that the question was coming.

Stay or go. An awful position to be put in, maybe. A difficult and deeply personal choice, definitely. But one that needed to be made.

And that's where Mats let everyone down. He decided not to decide. And in doing so, he ended up choosing the only wrong answer there was: to stay when they wanted him to go, and then to go when they wanted him to stay.

The rest of the story has been beaten to death. Sundin all but went into hiding. He dithered all off-season, stringing teams along, unable to decide if he still wanted to play even after months of vacation. The ongoing drama went from intriguing to aggravating to embarrassing to pathetic. All his post-deadline rationalizations turned out to be worth nothing. All the praise heaped on him for his loyalty became a joke.

In the end, it wasn't about a championship or a journey or even the money. It was about finding the last team left that was still willing to talk to him.

None of that should really matter to Leaf fans. It was apparent early on, well before free agency opened, that he wasn't coming back to Toronto. The rest of the sad saga, all the flip-flops and dithering and punch lines, is just noise. Leaf fans can feel embarrassed for him for that, but not angry.

It's all about the deadline, and the weeks that followed. It's about Mats Sundin doing enormous damage to the franchise's rebuilding efforts. And all of it, we came to find out, for nothing.

And through it all, he hasn't offered a meaningful word to the fans who worshiped him for 14 years. No explanation. Certainly no apology. No wish that somehow, things could have turned out differently. When it comes to addressing the past 12 months -- really addressing it, not just repeating some well-rehearsed PR-approved drivel -- Mats Sundin is once again making the choice he seems to like best: To do nothing. To take the easy way.

That's why he deserves to be booed.

And here's why he deserves to be cheered: 420 goals. 567 assists. 987 points. Fourteen years.

We'll all forgive him some day. We know this. We've forgiven Curtis Joseph and Robbie Alomar and everyone short of Vince Carter. Mats Sundin will see his jersey hanging in the rafters some day and he'll get a long ovation as it goes up.

All those cheers will come when the time is right. For some of us, that day is today. For others, it will take some more time. It turns out that Mats isn't the only one who can take his time.

So cheer if you want, boo if you must. Mats Sundin is absolutely deserving of both. And don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise.


  1. I just don't think you dump the incompetence of management on a player. It's a not player's role to rebuild a team.

    In the end Fletcher decided to make nice with Sundin (and others) when he had a chance to help the team.

  2. fair article. If he had signed for Vancouver in the summer then I think that I would be okay with that. It's just the taking months and months to make a goddamn decision that pissed me off.

  3. Are you kidding me?
    Because he flip flopped and took his time while deciding where to play, he deserves to be booed? Sounds like selfish reasons to me.
    I expect better from you DGB.

  4. @ Plorgashborg:

    Maybe next time you are so grievously stung by DGB's prose, wait like 10 min. and think up a better response than "are you kidding me".

  5. Yea you're right, I was just caught up in the "please dont boo mats" camp. Anyways, keep up the good work, I love this blog.

  6. "to stay when they wanted him to go, and then to go when they wanted him to stay"

    But when they wanted him to go he had a no-trade clause, and when they wanted him to stay (which is a debatable claim considering reports that he tried to come to terms with the Leafs before finalizing anything in Vancouver)he was not under contract. Aren't these fairly important things to keep in mind? I mean, it's a job, right?

  7. Who ever was the guy who hired this numbskull to write such rubbish, should see if they could try and trade him before the deadline. What a waste of time for people who actually love and know hockey. My advice, get a job where you use your hands to do anything but write, you are a disgrace to the profession.