The hockey story that just won’t die

Mats Sundin had a physical in Toronto the other day in preparation for his return to the NHL. Toronto apparently has cap room to sign Sundin, but why the hell would they? They’re trying to rebuild and are letting the young kids play to see what they’ve got. Would Sundin make the team better? In the short term, yes, but at the expense of taking playing time away from the kids. They’ve already got veterans like Blake and Kaberle for the kids to learn from. News flash (via Ron Wilson): the Leafs are not going to contend for the Cup this year (or likely for at least the next couple), so what would be the point of signing Sundin?

Nobody from the Leafs organization will say this out loud, but you have to know they’re thinking it: they also don’t want to be too good this year, otherwise their chances of winning the John Tavares sweepstakes get lower and lower.

Sundin has said that if he plays this season, it will be his last season. But this is the same guy who refused to waive his no-trade clause last year (when the Leafs could have gotten something for him) because he didn’t like the idea of being a rental player. He said that playing for the Stanley Cup is only meaningful if you’ve been playing with the team since the beginning of the season. And now, less than a year later, he’s sitting out until two months into the season and is hoping to sign with a Cup contender, and then he’ll retire after the season’s over. In other words, he’s sitting out specifically so that he can be a rental player.

I harbour no ill will towards Sundin; if he comes back with another team (even the Senators or Habs), best of luck to him. But part of me will remain angry with him for a while because of his refusal to waive his no-trade clause last season. He could have made the Leafs a better team in the long term by agreeing to a trade for draft picks and/or prospects, but he didn’t want to do that because (he said) he didn’t want to be a rental player and (he said) he wanted to remain a Maple Leaf. I accepted both of those statements at the time. But his actions since the end of last season conflict with both of them, and now I don’t know what to think. It’s kind of too bad that he won’t get the retirement send-off that one of the best captains in Leaf history should have had. Rather than have the big celebration of his career in his last-ever game in Toronto like Jim Veltman had this past year, the Sundin era in Toronto just faded away.


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