Friday, February 22, 2008

Mats Sundin's Moment of Truth

As even casual watchers of the NHL's pending trade deadline know, we are probably approaching Maple Leaf captain Mats Sundin's final weekend in Toronto.

At least one writer indicates a deal is already done - a deal, at least, that is subject to Mr. Sundin's approval. In an unusual ocurrance, Mr. Sundin did not meet with the media after the Leafs loss last night to Buffalo.

"PR Director Pat Park emerged to tell about 15 reporters that Sundin had "the flu" and had left. He did not make himself available for mid-day skate either.

Acting General-Manager Cliff Fletcher dropped what appeared to be further hints that something is already in the works:

"Mats has been such a big, important part of this franchise for so many years, you don't think we're going to drop something on [him] at five to three Tuesday afternoon?" Fletcher asked, rhetorically. "I don't do business that way."

Mr. Sundin is beneficiary of a no-movement provision in his Leaf contract that requires his agreement to any trade. I expect that he will bite the bullet, in spite of his stated fondness for Toronto, and agree to any trade-request Mr. Fletcher makes of him.

While much of the city appears to be clamouring for a deal that will ship the Leaf captain elsewhere, I anticipate a fair amount of remorse if and when such a deal is done.

Many do not recall the criticism Fletcher received when he acquired Mr. Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques in a 1994 trade that sent Leaf favoured son Wendell Clark to Quebec City. It took more than a few years (and two lackluster returns to Toronto by Mr. Clark), but Mr. Sundin ultimately won the city over.

Mr. Sundin is an elite player, and a class act. Unfortunately, neither he, nor this team he has led, has risen to achieve a championship.

In the quest for a Stanley Cup, the job has not been done.

With a trade, Mats Sundin may get there before the Leaf organization does. Perhaps, he can take some solace in that. If he remains in Toronto, he will never win the trophy.

After three consecutive years outside playoff contention, however, there is no doubt that the Leafs must make a move.

Thus, there will likely be a Sundin trade.

If so, there will inevitably be a morning after, filled with tributes and hand-wringing and second-guessing and blame.

None of it will amount to anything, unless and until this team's owners and management get as serious about winning as they are about balance sheets.

After 41 championship-free years, forgive me for having doubts.

Mr. Sundin has had a nice run in Toronto.

He deserves better. Let us hope he finds it elsewhere.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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