The Great Wait of '08: Heads or Tails?

Matthew Di NicolantonioAnalyst IAugust 19, 2008

Maybe this is what Mats Sundin needs to decide his status for the upcoming 2008-2009 NHL season--a coin flip.

The dependable Swedish centre has been in the news all summer due to his lack of decision-making abilities, and to be quite honest, I'm sick of it.

Sundin has been my favourite NHL player for many years. His scoring ability and incredible leadership even during difficult seasons with the Maple Leafs were among his most admirable qualities.

This summer, however, Sundin has been under an intense media microscope as the hockey world awaits the biggest decision of his career.

At first, I was angered by those who complained for Mats to decide and the blog posters who ranted on and on about how a decision should have been made. After all, this is an extremely important decision in a man's life and it should not be made with too much haste (see: Brett Favre Saga).

I also wondered why people were being so hard on Sundin. Other players have done the same thing before, by just exiting the game quietly and announcing retirement in late summer or early fall.

Joe Sakic is in the exact same boat as Sundin right now, having not decided if he'll be a spectator or participant for the 08-09 campaign.

However, Sakic's situation is much less complex than Sundin's, as I have finally come to realize.

It is clear that Sakic has no intention of playing anywhere but Colorado. He has told the Avalanche organization that he will likely make a decision in the next couple of weeks, and they seem more than prepared to move on to Life After Joe.

If they get their long-time captain back, fantastic. If not, then they will say congratulations on a wonderful career and likely honour him by retiring his number at some point during the season.

Sundin, on the other hand, has left the door wide open.

In June he said he would entertain offers from teams other than the Maple Leafs. In early July, after receiving a ridiculous contract offer from Vancouver, and other teams, he thanked all parties for their interest, but said he wouldn't be ready to make a decision.

That's moderately respectable. The man needed some time to get his life in order He is getting married soon and perhaps leaving his Swedish wife for hockey on the North American continent isn't the best start to a life-long bond?

As the weeks have dragged on and the media attention continues to grow, more and more fans are getting sick of the act.

The reaction to the saga varies greatly depending on who you talk to.

I've heard some fans say that any decision made by Sundin that puts him in a different NHL jersey (especially that of Montreal) is blasphemous and unacceptable. While Sundin owes the team and its fans nothing after putting up with mediocre teammates and inexplicable pressure for 15 seasons, it would look bad on Mats to change teams now. At the trade deadline last season he repeatedly stated that he wanted to win a Stanley Cup and retire in the Toronto Maple Leafs' blue and white. Any decision contrary to that would be violating his own pledge of allegiance.

Another opinion is that Sundin just needs to make up his mind, and most Leafs' fans don't even care if he returns or not. The sense of betrayal is already in the air and simply bringing an end to the whole situation seems to be what the fans want most.

I have personally come to terms with Sundin leaving. His return to Toronto makes no sense for the hockey club or the individual, so a parting of ways is in everyone's best interest.

My preference is to see him retire. He had an exceptional season and, although mired in controversy of not waiving his NTC and finishing the season with an injury, he had one of his most productive seasons as a Leaf, and he can ride into the sunset gracefully.

If he returns to Toronto, he risks having a mediocre season and stealing playing time from other players who might benefit more from an increased role such as Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Nik Antropov.

So long as he does't sign with Montreal or Ottawa, I am indifferent to the fact of him signing with another club. For the good of the game I hope he rejects Vancouver's $20 million offer. As much as I love and respect Sundin, he does not deserve to be the highest paid player in the game and salaries do not need to be inflated league-wide for the sake of acquiring an aging star who hasn't scored more than 100 points in almost 15 seasons.

Where Mats stands right now is anybody's guess. One thing is for certain though, he needs to make up his mind pronto. He has dragged as many as six teams into his gravitational pull of 'wait and see' and he needs to stop wasting their time.

There are free agents still on the market waiting to see where they can sign since, the five "losers" in the Sundin sweepstakes will have both cap and roster space to turn to other options.

So Mats, if you're having trouble deciding if you want to play this season, maybe you need a nice visit from that guy from 'No Country for Old Men' to flip his coin for you.

If you'll be returning to the NHL, roll a die. It'll be a lot quicker and easier than what you're putting us through.


Note: As training camp approaches I will begin writing more regularly about the Maple Leafs and their off-season signings as well as how I think they will stack up against the rest of the league this season.


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