The Mats Sundin Saga: Who Knows Where He'll Sign??

Mike BoultbeeContributor IDecember 11, 2008

Remember when Britney Spears was consistently in so much mental diress that mental hospitals likely considered installing a revolving door?

Remember on the eve of Barack Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate, when political junkies were frantically tracking all outgoing private jet flights in Chicago?

Hockey has nothing even comparable to the absolute obsessive nature of media coverage exhibited in these two situations. Yet, if any story were to come even close in the hockey world, it would be the saga of Mats Sundin.

Now in its sixth month of coverage, the unrestricted free agent and former Leaf captain has not played a single game this year, yet is the centre of media attention in the NHL.

This is especially true in the Toronto media, where Vesa Toskala could get a shutout and score a hat trick in one night, and it would still be relegated to Page three of the Sports section, than if Sundin was spotted eating a pastrami sandwich at a deli in New York City.

Basically, the coverage of Sundin to date has been just short of paparazzi-level. The only thing we need now is him coming out a limo wearing a short skirt and no underwear. So please excuse me if I haven't been paying attention to all the Sundin hoopla this season.

Until now, that is.

After all the speculation that Sundin was going to make his decision soon in July, then in August, and so on, we have finally passed the point of no return. If Sundin wants to play this season, he'll have to decide by the end of the month or he will lose out.

While it's possible he could pull a Teemu Selanne and return at the deadline, Selanne returned for $1.5M. Sundin, on the other hand, will fetch somewhere in the $6-10M range, and no one is going to pay that kind of money for a player to suit up for 20-odd regular season games plus the postseason.

So, for Sundin, the December deadline, after months of waiting for it, is the real deadline. No more fakeouts.

And with a hard deadline in mind, I can finally stop spending my time not caring about the media circus surrounding Sundin and speculate where I think he will end up.

But first, we need to look at the three things that I think will at least play the main factors in his decision.

Number three on the list is money. While it will be a factor, I don't think it will be the factor, or even a major factor in Sundin determining where he ends up. After all, this is a guy who accepted a $5.5M, one-year contract in the summer of 2007 to play with the Leafs. He could have commanded more on the open market, and he certainly could have prodded JFJ into giving him more money to stay.

Instead, he took a modest salary and moved on. This kind of behaviour indicates to me that being the highest bidder isn't going to sway Sundin. Even if he signed with Vancouver for $10M a season, it wouldn't be because of the money.

Number two on the list is winning a Cup. For any team to be considered, I think they'll have to prove to Sundin they can contend. Sundin is 36. He has one, maybe two, seasons left to win the Stanley Cup, so he's going to play for a team with a fighting chance.

The reason, however, that this isn't the number one reason is quite simple: he's shown it's not number one. If winning a Cup were the only reason, he would have accepted a trade to a contending team last February. And even if he didn't, we would be seeing the two true contender teams in Detroit and San Jose at the forefront of the Sundin sweepstakes. Neither team, however, are anywhere to be seen in the list of frontrunners.

This brings me to the N. 1 reason why Sundin will sign with a team: comfort.

If there's one trait that Sundin has shown in his NHL career, it is his desire to be comfortable on whatever team he chooses to play for. As I mentioned, he took a modest $5.5M for a one-year contract with the Leafs when he could have commanded far more money, and turned down waiving his NTC to go play with a better team while the Leafs remained in turmoil last season.

What reasons, other than comfort, could be at play? Sundin wants to be comfortable wherever he plays, this much has shown over the last year, and I think it will be the deciding factor in who he signs with.

Which brings me to the speculation. To me, this is a two-horse race between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers. If Sundin is going to make a decision mainly based on comfort, with winning a Cup and money being smaller factors, look no further than these two teams.

While both teams are unlikely to win this season, they still have an outside chance. Vancouver has already given Sundin a record offer of $10M a season, while the Blueshirts would be unlikely to shy away from making a big offer.

But, most of all, the number of friends and Team Sweden teammates Sundin has cannot be understated in terms of comfort. Two of his very good friends, Markus Naslund and Henrik Lundqvist play for the Rangers, while Daniel and Henrik Sedin, as well as Mattias Ohlund are with the Canucks. Sundin would feel comfortable being reunited with any of these players.

In the end, if I were a betting man, I'd say that there's a 55 to 45 percent chance that Sundin signs with the Rangers. But, that's for him to know and us to find out.

So, let the media circus continue.