If you’re reading this and it’s between the hours of 7-9:30pm EST, do yourself a favour and tune into Hockey Night in Canada. You might be witnessing the end of an era in Toronto sports.
Mats Sundin, captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1997, is on the trading block. Earlier this week, TSN broke the news that interim general manager Cliff Fletcher had asked Sundin for a list of teams he’d be willing to join. It’s clear Sundin doesn’t want to leave; he’s been unwavering in that regard from the outset. Which is fair, of course, and given he’s got a no-trade clause in his contract it’s also his legal entitlement—but the cover of today’s Toronto Sun, along with some of Sundin’s recent comments, are fuelling speculation that he’s thinking about waiving it.
Four other Leafs (Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, and Darcy Tucker) have no-trade clauses, as well; these contracts, which chew up a significant portion of the team’s salary cap, have effectively hamstrung the Maple Leafs for years and are evidence of how much damage John Ferguson, Jr did when he was in charge. Fletcher will be looking to move at least one of these contracts—and Sundin, who’s playing as well as he’s played in years, is a marquee talent who could turn a contender into a champion this post-season. Several teams will presumably be vying for his services if the Leaf captain becomes available.
And if he doesn’t? Also earlier this week, some media members who shall remain nameless suggested that Fletcher resort to strongarm tactics (stripping Sundin of his captaincy, for instance, if not banishing him from the dressing room altogether). They’re ludicrous ideas, of course: these maneuvers would do more harm in one fell swoop than John Ferguson did in four years. It’s becoming clear that if something’s going to happen, it’s Sundin who’s going to have to pull the trigger; respecting his decision, whatever it may be, is the least he deserves after years of faithful service to the team and to the city (the millions of dollars notwithstanding…obviously). But if he does decide to leave, tonight would be his last home game.
So tune in. The next time you see the Toronto Maple Leafs play, they might be a very different-looking team. They might have a bit more hair, but they’ll have a lot less heart.