Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Sundin Update? Not Again!

I wasn't sure if I was going to post this, but I thought, if I don't - who will? Only everybody else! I know everyone's sick and tired of the Sundin drama, especially me, so I decided that I wouldn't bother posting this after all, but then I went and typed the whole thing anyways. And then I hit "PUBLISH POST", and it was too late. Fortunately, I knew all of that was going to happen and included it ahead of time in my introduction, which by now, you've already read.

On the weekend I happened to read an article in the Star by Rosie Dimanno about Mats Sundin. I don't normally care for Dimanno's work, - her last piece on Sundin, when she covered the Festival Cup, was horribly bland and uninspired, - but buried down at the bottom of this article was a really weird bit:

Yet his interest is clearly perked when informed about one well-connected hockey journalist who reported yesterday that coach Ron Wilson believes Sundin will return as a Leaf at some point this year.

"Wilson said that? But did he say he wants me to?''
Sundin, Oct. 24/08

Strange thing for Sundin to ask, I thought. Is that all he's waiting for? Maybe Dimanno didn't have the exact quote in her notes, or maybe she didn't have her notes in front of her, or maybe she doesn't believe in notes, but just so we're not gossiping or playing broken-telephone, here's what Wilson said on record the next day:

"Hey, I wouldn't mind if he came back, and reports say he might come back to Toronto, that he's waiting to see how we play."
Wilson, Oct. 26/08

Aha. He said, he wouldn't mind. That's not bad. That's about as much as you're going to get out of Ron Wilson, I think. The desire has to come from within, Mats. Wilson doesn't want Stajan to play better, he expects him to. If Blake doesn't want to play the way Wilson expects, then he doesn't play. Wilson never said publicly that he wanted Luke Schenn to be part of his top 4 defence this year - but he gave him the opportunity, and now Luke gets the rewards:

"He just came up to me and said: `We're going to keep you. You're not going to have to go back and ride the bus.' That's all he said."
Schenn, Oct. 28/08

Wilson's not going to ask anybody to do anything. Either get the job done or be out of a job. But if he believes in your abilities, he will give you the opportunities. If you accept those opportunities, then you also accept the responsibilty of Wilson's expectations.

"If Mats Sundin came back I would make him the captain."
Wilson, Oct. 26/08

That's a pretty strong endorsement, I would say. Without saying specifically that he wants Sundin to come back, he is suggesting that if Mats did decide to return, Wilson would expect him to lead. The fact that Wilson has left the captaincy vacant, or that Fletcher has built a roster perfectly suited for Sundin while leaving enough cap room to sign him, suggests the Leafs are very interested in having Sundin rejoin them. Without saying so publicly, they've done everything they can to create the perfect conditions for his return. Oh, wait a minute, they did say so publicly:

"It feels like my decision is going to come after there's going to be some other stuff going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs and I'll see what happens there. I'll have to make my decision after that."
Sundin, May 29/08

"After I sit down and tell him what we have in mind -- which isn't for public consumption now -- I think a clear picture will emerge for him," Fletcher said. "I think he'll be comfortable."
Fletcher, early June 08

What wasn't for public consumption then was how Cliff was going to do it. Cliff is a man of his word though, and while it took time to get all the pieces in place (and McCabe and others out of place), the Leafs are a different team this year, a better team, and yet there remains a huge hole in the line-up specifically suited to allow for Sundin's return. Matt Stajan has done well the last 3 games between Antropov and Ponikarovsky, including a goal last night, but, c'mon seriously, Matt Stajan is the number 1 centre on the Leafs?!?

Actions speak louder then words. It's taken a while to get there, but I think the Leafs have more then demonstrated their desire to have Sundin come back. No one wants to lose face on this and look the fool, but, baby-step by baby-step, the two sides are getting closer to resuming the relationship again.

Maybe there really isn't anymore to it then that. If we look back to the beginning of the summer, before Sundin was even a free-agent, the message from Sundin was already there:

"First of all, for me to come back to Toronto, Toronto has got to show they really want me to come back, too," Sundin later added. "So we'll see what happens."
Sundin, May 29/08

Maybe there is more. Maybe it's up to the fans. Us. You, me, and all the other apathetic weirdo's out there who've lost interest in Sundin and don't care if he returns. Some (not me) don't want to see Sundin return because it will decrease our chances of a quality draft pick. Others (also not me) are skeptical of having Sundin back because of the weight of his larger-then-life presence and the way it affects team chemistry. And finally, some people (me) are just bored with the whole thing. They need constant stimulation (totally me) or they lose interest.

So I think I've found the solution. We just need to have our buttons pressed. Generate a little excitment. Once that ball of hype gets going, there'll be no stopping it. One way Sundin could do that himself would be to start talking about hockey again. To show some enthusiasm for the sport we all love. Get that look of determination back in his eyes. Because, as Leaf fans, we know there's very few things more exciting then a determined Sundin.

Another way Sundin could totally win over all Leaf fans would be to return without an NTC. I know, not going to happen, but from a purely PR perspective, it'd be a brilliant move. Let it be a gentleman's agreement between Mats and Cliff. Let Fletcher take the heat at the trade deadline and at the end of the year for not moving Sundin. Cliff is a man on his word, I don't think he would screw Sundin by sending him to a team if he didn't want to go, contractual agreement or not. It doesn't really need to be there, so why should it be there? But imagine the joy in Leaf Nation when it's announced that Sundin has signed without a No-Trade clause. Fletcher would be a hero, and Sundin too. Until the end of the year when the Leafs miss the playoffs again by a single point, but then all the heat will fall on Cliff's shoulders for not trading Sundin when he could have. Fletcher won't care 'cause he'll be stepping down and handing the reigns over to someone else. Meanwhile, Sundin can ride off into the sunset and retire as a Maple Leaf, having thanked the fans for making his dream come true with one last season.

"My dream and the best scenario would be if I ended my career as a Toronto MapleLeaf."
Sundin, May 29/08

No one player, not even Sundin, is bigger then the Leafs' orginization. By demontrating that he understands that, and then leading by that kind of example, without a No-Trade clause - only a handshake from Cliff - Mats can have the send off he deserves, and so can we.

*** An Update to the Update ***

From the comments section, Drake asks a good question:

I've always been a Sundin fan, but having said that, the team seems to be developing some good chemistry without him... Sundins return would obviously demote Stajan, so do you think that might mess up the chemistry?

I responded with: Personally, I think no one wants Sundin to come back more then Stajan.

It seems someone from the Natioanl Post overheard our little conversation and gave us this follow up (Nov. 3/08):

Wilson was asked if Sundin's return - theoretically, at least - would place the team's new-found chemistry at risk.

"I don't see how it could hurt," the coach said. "But that's just speculation.

From the same article, further down, Stajan responds with this:

"I hope he comes back. I hope he comes back to us. He'd be a big boost to our team, for sure... You add one of the best players in the world and, no doubt, it's going to help the team."


Drake said...

Hey! Thanks for posting a comment on my blog. Mike Van Ryn has erased all memory of Bryan McCabe at this point, and has contributed more offensively than anyone expected. Your Sundin article is great. Its been almost a full week since I read something about him! It will be interesting to see what he decides after Wilson's comments. October is over and the Leafs arent in the basement. Hopefully thats good enough for him!

general borschevsky said...

Thanks for dropping by drake. Really appreciate your comment.

Van Ryn so far has totally exceeded expectations and is a great choice for player of the week.

Question: Even if Sundin wants to play hockey, would he still want to be a Captain?

Nice post about the New Jersey game too, at MapleLeafNewsTicket.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Matt Stajan is the number one centre on the Leafs. That's like my worst nightmare coming true. But he played a helluva game yesterday, eh? Perhaps there is a solid hockey player somewhere down in there. Perhaps Wilson can be the one to get Stajan to develop into a solid NHLer. Stajan had me aroused last night. That's the type of game I need him to play: winning faceoffs, and going right to the net to deflect shots from Kabby, you know?

He's reacted very well to Wilson benching him. I'm impressed with his attitude. And good on Wilson for sending him to the press box in the first place. He seems to know how to get guys going.

I'm enjoying this team. I'm enjoying this team without Sundin. I've moved on. That doesn't mean I won't accept Mats with open arms if he wants to come back, but I think we're setting the foundation for something good here.

Nice work as always, General. Cheers.

general borschevsky said...

Cheers to you eyebleaf! Stajan has certainly rebounded. Since the NY Rangers game, he seems to have found his comfort zone.

Drake said...

Hey General. No problem! Ill put up a link to your blog on my site next time I log into my account. I just started a couple months ago, so I dont know many other Leafs bloggers!

To answer your question, I think Sundin would still want to be captain. Hes been in that role so long i dont see him wanting to give it up, and Im sure the the young players would really look up to him.

Ive always been a Sundin fan, but having said that, the team seems to be developing some good chemistry without him. The Antropov-Stajan-Ponikarovsky line in particular is really starting to come together, and actually looks like a real top line now. Who would have thought? Sundins return would obviously demote Stajan, so do you think that might mess up the chemistry?

general borschevsky said...

Hmm. Do I think Sundin's return might mess up the chemistry? I don't think so. This team belongs to Wilson now, even if he would make Sundin the Captain. By pushing everyone down one notch at centre, Sundin makes the whole team better. Personally, I think no one wants Sundin to come back more then Stajan.

Welcome to the Barilkosphere drake. Keep 'er goin', eh!

Make sure you drop by PensionPlanPuppets often. It's a great place to meet the fellow bloggers.

general borschevsky said...

Hi jh29! Welcome to the General Area! Thanks for your comment. I liked your post on the Sundin situation. Good analysis. Drop by again anytime!

Drake said...

The balrikosphere eh? I hope Im not too late to join the club! I'll drop by the PPP more often.

general borschevsky said...

Good stuff. Never too late. In fact, I would say the timing has never been more right. More the merrier.