We have no problem admitting our man-love for Mats Sundin: he’s been the captain of our favourite hockey team for most of our adult lives, he’s one of the greatest Toronto Maple Leafs of all-time and he’s a shoe-in hall-of-famer once he retires. Seeing him score his 500th career goal still ranks as the greatest sporting moment we’ve ever witnessed. We know we’re supposed to be too old and too sophisticated to have favourite athletes…but if we weren’t, Sundin would be head-and-shoulders above everyone else.
And having said all that, it’s time for him to go. It’s all gone horribly wrong from the Maple Leafs in 2007/08. Before the season began, Leafs Nation had reason for guarded optimism: last year’s team only missed the playoffs by a single point, and key off-season acquisitions (in particular Jason Blake, erstwhile 40-goal scorer) should’ve made them, if not actual contenders, at least a little bit better. Instead, they’ve regressed; the circus surrounding the team’s front office, meanwhile, is threatening to overshadow everything that’s happening on the ice. Sundin is playing his best hockey in years, despite a “career-threatening” hip condition (thanks, Steve Simmons!), but the team itself is a bigger mess than it’s been since the Ballard era.
It’s time to rebuild—as opposed to merely paying lip service to rebuilding, as is the custom ’round these parts. The Leafs need to be blown up, preferably under the auspices of a new general manager (John Ferguson, Jr is clearly in way over his head, and while he’s still technically in charge he’s essentially a dead man walking at this point). Sundin, who’s been the face of the franchise since becoming the team’s 16th captain in 1997, has a no-trade clause in his contract, and so far hasn’t given much indication he’d be willing to waive it; in fact, he’s stated time and again his desire to finish his career in Toronto. Still, all this talk of moving to a contender, to a team with a real chance of winning the Stanley Cup, must be making his bald head swim. Sundin would be well within his rights to request a trade: with another season slipping away, and with the team’s management in turmoil, we can’t think of a single, rational Leaf fan who’d blame him for wanting out. Plus, if Sundin leaves, he’d yield a bumper crop of talent in exchange. It’d provide the impetus for a rebuilding project that’s long overdue.
Again, we don’t want this to happen—but at this point, it needs to be done. Even with Mats Sundin, the Leafs have fewer wins than any other team in the NHL. This season is a lost cause; cashing in on Sundin’s talent will at least salvage something. It’s time for the Leafs to move forward, to start over from scratch and let an experienced hand remake the franchise. Even if it means shipping our favourite athlete out of town.
Photo by viaveg from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.