Mats Sundin: Playing the Waiting Game Right out of the Market
Whether or not it's intentional, Mats Sundin may have forced everyone else to make his decision about where to go for him.
As has become his routine the past few seasons, Sundin is seriously considering the benefits of coming back to play an 18th year in the National Hockey League, and the benefits of throwing in the towel and capping off what has truly been a Hall-worthy career.
The Toronto Maple Leafs knew it would happen. After all, this is the only team that Mats has known since the strike-shortened 1994/95 season. It's just everyone else that was unprepared.
The Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers were climbing on top of each other just to have the right to talk to Sundin before he became a free agent.
Now they're questioning whether their efforts would have been better spent somewhere else—maybe trying to pry the likes of Ryan Malone or Brian Rolston away from the clutches of their respective former clubs before the Tampa Bay Lightning got to them.
At least it would have made Greg Caggiano's birthday wish come true.
The Vancouver Canucks waited with bated breath as the clock struck noon on Canada Day, and threw a massive contract at the massive Swede without hesitation. "Markus Naslund couldn't get us into the playoffs last year, maybe his countryman can," was something resembling the thought process coming from GM Place.
And you can't for one minute believe that the Detroit Red Wings hadn't acknowledged the possibility of bringing Sundin on board with Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. That would have made that team too "Swede" to be true.
But now Sundin has come out and said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Like the genious in science class who everyone wants to work with, Sundin is the object of lesser-lights trying to cling to others' success. We don't even know if this 'whiz-kid' even needs a partner anymore though.
For anyone hoping to cross beakers, tongs, and Bunsen burners with him though, Mats won't have an answer by the end of the week. Chances are he won't even have an answer by the end of the month, leaving teams with two alternatives
1) They can be patient and wait him out, showing that they legitimately care about having him specifically on their team rather than just the player with the ability to make the biggest impact that's available. They can hope that their loyalty sways his opinion when he makes his decision to return to professional hockey, or...
2) They move on. Maybe the Montreal Canadiens take a shot at Markus Naslund. Maybe the New York Rangers swing a blockbuster trade in hopes of landing a top-line forward. We already saw Detroit move on as they gave Marian Hossa a deal reminiscent of what Sundin could have earned on the open market
The Red Wings probably realized it the quickest that Mats will decide at his own pace. But in a market driven by time constraints, the expectation of winning, and astronomical dollar and term amounts, his own pace doesn't seem to be in-step with the teams that want him.
There's been a lot of speculation that it's taking Mats this long to decide because he's having trouble leaving Toronto—but that's just a lot of people putting words in his mouth.
He could and he couldn't be having trouble leaving the Blue and White behind. As far as we know, he just isn't sure if he's still capable of continuing on in hockey.
Then again, if he doesn't want to leave Toronto, this could be the easiest way to stay. After all, Toronto's cap space isn't going anywhere, and if one of either McCabe or Kubina are dealt, then there's all the more room.
The Leafs aren't expected to compete next year and won't be spending like it. They'll still have the room if Mats chooses to come back in August, and I'm sure he'd love to pick up where he left off with the Leafs.
The Vancouvers, Montreals, and New Yorks, however, don't have that kind of time. Like the Leafs were so many years ago, they're scrambling to find that one piece to put them atop their respective conference rivals, and hopefully ride the tidal wave to the Stanley Cup Final.
They can be discouraged that Mats is taking so long to decide, but it's his responsibility to do what's right for himself and for his family. Each of these teams is just one of his many options.
Building a winning team is the responsibility of each organization chasing Mats Sundin, and the long-time Leafs captain is just one of their many options, too.
It's funny how the pieces can be so similar, but can never fit together.
In a world in which patience is an overlooked virtue, Mats Sundin is filled with it. Those that need and want him, however, aren't.
In a world dictated by how much money one has, teams are all too willing to throw it at Sundin. Too bad he's never been concerned with the money.
These are the qualities that we grew to admire and adore in Mats as a captain. He was cautious and cool in a calamity. He never rushed into anything, but was confident and headstrong enough to dictate a situation. And he never committed to something if he felt he wasn't ready or qualified.
What made him a role model in Toronto is making him a symbol of frustration everywhere else.
But that's just Mats.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report, and one half of the NHL Community Leader team with Ken Armer. You can get in contact with Bryan through his profile and you can check out his archives here.
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