Mats Sundin, the all-time leading scorer in a Maple Leaf uniform, seems likely not to be pulling his number 13 blue and white jersey on for the upcoming season.
A prediction of that magnitude now seems like—well, not much of a prediction and more like reality. It's halfway through the month of August, and a month from now training camp will be in full swing.
Why is the best Maple Leaf ever to wear the uniform—yes, I said it—waiting around in Sweden with his lips firmly pressed up against one another? What is he waiting for?
The hockey world has gone crazy with these questions, among others surrounding Sundin's camp. So crazy, in fact, that true-blue Leaf fans are complaining on boards. Hell, I've even read articles about how any Sundin articles there are.
Let me be the first to tell you it's not Mats Sundin we are waiting on. It's Cliff Fletcher—and more specifically, MLSE.
As much as you Habs, Canucks, Rangers, and Flyers fans—Rangers and Flyers? Seriously? They think they have a shot at Mats? Come on—might hold out hope for number 13, he will never slip your uniform on.
He had a chance to sign with Montreal. He didn't. Was it because he wanted to test the free-agent market? Gimme a break. Was it because he didn't want to make a rash decision before seeing what other teams had for personnel and roster? How would those teams then have room for him under their cap?
No way he would ever play for under $7 million. The NHLPA wouldn't have stood for it. Mats is easily a $7 million dollar player in this league. Nothing short of fair market value would be good enough. (Okay, maybe in Detroit—but they have no line space for him.)
Sundin then got rocked by the $20 million dollar offer from Vancouver. I'm sure he expected bids from other teams, but nothing of this magnitude. He politely said, I'm flattered—but no thanks.
You Canucks fans had quite the time trying to convince us otherwise. They were pretty good arguments too. If he signs on for two years with the Canucks, he will be skating on home ice when the 2010 Winter Olympics are in Vancouver. A definite advantage for a Swede who always dreamt of winning gold for his home country—too bad he did that in Torino in 2006.
Meanwhile this whole time, the Maple Leafs have stayed in the background—if Toronto can ever be in the background, much to the dismay of most hockey fans—with their quiet, but strong, $7 million dollar offer. Let's face it—they know what Mats is worth, and they know he bleeds blue.
He made a bold statement at the trade deadline. Those of you who took time to read into it and see the true meaning would have heard: "I am a Toronto Maple Leaf, I can't imagine winning the Stanley Cup with another team. Besides, if I even wanted to, I would do it from the start of training camp—and not midway through the season."
That is where all of the other teams, mostly the media, started to talk about Mats with another team. He couldn't have given his hand away and said "I will either play for the Leafs or retire."
Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto all know what the situation is—and it is quite simple. MLSE wants Mats, but without a no-trade clause. Mats would rather retire than accept a deal without one.
Montreal and Vancouver are only holding onto the hope that Mats' passion for the game of hockey will shine past his passion as the captain (and best player, ever) of one of the most storied franchises in hockey history.
MLSE is using that against Mats. I find it quite deplorable, to be honest. MLSE will inevitably be able to say one of the two following things. "We tried our hardest, Mats wanted to play somewhere else." Or, "The greatest Maple Leaf of all time has decided to hang up the skates."
Either quote leaves MLSE clear and free to their fans, and ultimately to the people who pay their bills—us, the fans.
It's not like us Leaf fans are used to misery or anything. I have never witnessed a cup final. Almost—twice.
But Mats is being made to look like the villain here. It's simple—who is classier? MLSE, or Mats Sundin?
When the puck drops at the beginning of October and Mats is not taking his usual spot at centre ice for the opening faceoff, no matter where he is, or what he's doing, this Leafs fan will be cheering for him.
No. 13, our captain—always.