Mats – firstly, you’ve made me look like a total sap having torn my heart out when staunchly defending your decision last March. Personally, that makes me more than a little bit pissed off (but I understand, I’ll explain later).
Now that that’s out of the way, a night’s sleep and a morning of reflection have sort of made me change my viewpoint on the way this whole saga turned out. If my server didn’t crap out, last night I would’ve posted an infuriated diatribe about how Mats was a hypocritical, narcissistic moneybag. But I’ve come to understand the decision as much as it is frustrating. There’s no doubt the Leafs got the short end of this stick. True, his departure has seemed inevitable for past few months but it never really felt real until now. The unrealized return will kill us all as much as the Tomas Kaberle-Jeff Carter near-deal although not as much as the Vincent Lecavalier almost-trade, the traded Roberto Luongo draft pick or the nixed Wayne Gretzky acquisition that epitomized Harold Ballard’s farcical regime.
I can see why Mats’ decision, on the surface, looks like the wrong one. Aside from the fact that Sundin sold the “full journey” reason as his justification for his refusal to waive his no-trade clause last March (and is now joining Vancouver at the 30-game mark), he also said that this season wasn’t about the money but rather about winning the Cup. Unless he sees potential in Vancouver that we’re not seeing, this either comes off as Mats opting for the biggest dollar figure to a join a team that’s not a serious contender or maybe him looking to have some fun playing alongside his fellow countrymen in Henrik & Daniel Sedin in his swansong. Maybe both. Each scenario makes Mats look self-centered and inconsiderate. Vancouver is an above-average team with Luongo in net (which he won’t be for quite some time), but I don’t think they are good enough to emerge out of that brutally strong Western circuit. They’re not there, even with Sundin. Especially if Luongo’s absence hurts their ultimate position in the standings and they have to play one of the Western forces in the early stages of the playoffs. If he wanted to win, and wasn’t in it for the money, one would think he would join the NY Rangers or Montreal Canadiens – both of whom play in a much more open Conference – at a discount ticket.
But I think MF37 is bang on: Mats painted himself into this corner with the brush of his own indecision. Sundin was struggling to a) decide whether he wants to play or not, b) try to do the right thing. I know for a fact that he was not willing to go to either Montreal or Ottawa because that would’ve been a perfidious act to commit at the expense of a fanbase that largely accepted his decision at the deadline as well as one that worshiped him during his tenure admittedly after initial trepidation (it’s tough to fill Wendel’s shoes). There weren’t any boos during the home game following the deadline, not that I heard. Undoubtedly, Mats wishes that last March didn’t have to play out as it did. But Mats did not hold it against Fletcher by any means, Cliff was simply doing his job. I think Mats was most pissed at the media for turning it into the snowball it became and thus vowed to steer clear of a city with a similar media vortex in the future, as reported widely in the media. Don’t underestimate that as a reason why he’s in Vancouver, and not New York or Montreal at the moment.
But to get back to the central focus, Mats seems to have been so caught up in doing the right thing and balancing that with his own desires that his decision dragged on far longer than he anticipated. When he named Christmas as his deadline, the number of teams that still had the cap space were limited. Naturally, the teams with the cap space at this point are mostly crap (via MF37 – Atlanta, Columbus, Carolina, Colorado, LA, Nashville, Islanders, Phoenix, Blues, Lightning, Leafs, Canucks). The Rangers and the Canadiens (MTL seemed to bow out once they acquired Lang) are as tight to the cap as can be. It’s not easy as many may think to offload salary, and you’re not, as the media speculated, going to start tossing veterans into the minors and forget important intangible factors such as team chemistry and morale in order to bring in Mats, especially when you’re succeeding and/or have a wealth of depth at the center-ice position (like in NY). Sundin didn’t want to force the hand of any GM into trading away current players. Sundin recently said himself, and this is important, that “I am happy there was no player movement because I was joining the team. I hope I can come in and be part of what the Vancouver Canucks have been doing so far this year.”
Vancouver, the lone winning team on the aforementioned list, put aside the needed money for Sundin. It was clear that Vancouver was where Sundin was still very much wanted, and also where he could slip in without too much disruption in the form of player movement.
So Mats won’t become the first captain since George Armstrong to retire in Leaf colours. Ultimately, I don’t think it will seriously injure his reputation in this city. Once this decision is accepted, and it will be, fans will remember the 14 years of dignified service moreso than the controversial conclusion of his tenure.
If we can get over the loss of the unrealized return, for our youth movement’s sake we’re better off enduring the sight of him in a Canuck sweater.