Mats Sundin to Montreal Canadiens: Betrayal or Understandable?

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IMay 29, 2008

Earlier today I was asked by Miah, a big Canadiens fan, and a good writer here on BR, if I would comment on the Mats Sundin situation in Toronto, and address the rumours of him departing the blue and white to sign in Montreal.  Of course I was more than happy to help.  The following is my take.

It's a very weird parallel I find myself in right now.  I am a huge hockey fan, and I would love to see the finals go seven games (mainly because I have tickets to game seven!) 

On the other hand as soon as the finals ends I feel the real action begins, as far as the Maple Leafs go.

As if it wasn't enough to have no general manager and no head coach.  For the first time in a while the Maple Leafs and their fans are looking realistically at a situation they thought would never come.

The departure of Mats Sundin.

Sundin, 37, still hasn't decided on whether he will play in the NHL next season. One thing is for sure, it isn't a one track mind the big Swede is working with right now.

Sundin raised many eyebrow yesterday at a press conference where he received the Mark Messier leadership award.  Sundin refrained from handing out the typical, cliche response. Instead he admitted he had many options if he decided to play in the NHL next year, and that he wouldn't be just limited to signing with Toronto.

It's not the statement he made that raised eyebrows.  After all, at 37 he played some of the best hockey of his career, was highly sought after on deadline day, and will likely be a player of interest come July 1st.

It wasn't the statement.  It was the context. 

For the first time in years, he was non-committal to the Maple Leafs.  He was also quick to point out that Toronto had to show him they still wanted him.  He kept saying it had to start with Toronto making the moves toward him.

To me, the statements he made yesterday had hints of bitterness sprinkled throughout every sentence.  Obviously Sundin is hesitant to return to the Leafs if the team and its office will be in a state of transition.  Sundin will doubtfully want to look like the enemy again like he did after going through a very public no trade clause debacle this year.

Because of this I felt uneasy when he continually pinned it in Toronto's corner.  He kept stressing it would start with the management of Toronto making the effort to sign him.  It looks as though Sundin is laying the groundwork to come out of this looking like the good guy if he does bolt Toronto this summer.

Like he said, Sundin has options.  As much as Leafs fans might not want to hear this, Montreal is one of the more attractive ones.

Montreal had a fantastic regular season and went to the second round of the playoffs this year.  With a talented young core, and the bulk of the team returning, Montreal's future is surely bright.

Montreal tried desperately to acquire Sundin at the trade deadline last season. The deal in place would have included draft picks and Chris Higgins coming to the Leafs.

The rumors of Sundin signing in Montreal simply won't go away, and were only fuelled further by a rumor last week that stated he wanted to remain in Canada if he decides to continue playing in the NHL.

So, what do Maple Leafs fans think of this?  Well, some are understanding.  Some, well, I can't even type what they said in here for fear of being reprimanded by the censors. 

Many will feel outraged if Sundin decides to move on this summer, when the Leafs will have received no compensation.  He refused to waive his no trade clause this past March, which would have helped the team immensely.

And signing with the team's oldest rival only adds to the betrayal some fans feel right now.

However, Leafs fans really need to take a step back, and look at the big picture.

Sundin has been our captain.  He has been with us through some terrible times, and some of the most fantastic times. 

He has given us his all, every night, no matter what.  No matter where they were in the standings, what their record in the road trip was, whatever the case, Sundin played every shift with his blue and white heart on his sleeve.

It would hurt to see Mats walk, especially to a rival like the Canadiens.  But really, Mats has given us all he can give.  He owes it to himself, to see what else is out there.  He deserves a chance at the Stanley Cup, something the Maple Leafs aren't going to give him anytime soon.

Mats Sundin owes the Maple Leafs, or its fans nothing.  He has already given all he has.


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