Well, F Mats Sundin has signed with the Vancouver Canucks. After months of speculation on whether he was going to play or retire – speculation that began as early as the NHL Trade Deadline last season – Sundin has finally decided to play hockey this season.
Yesterday evening, Sundin signed a one-year/$10MM pro-rated contract (meaning he’ll probably take home somewhere around $5.5MM after the trade freeze, so Vancouver has about $3MM under the cap) with the Canucks after rumours had him wanting to sign with the New York Rangers. The Rangers, however, could not clear enough cap room to sign the Swedish forward, and therefore, missed out on signing another big-name centre to play with F Scott Gomez, F Chris Drury and F Brandon Dubinsky.
Sundin, who has inappropriately led F Brendan Shanahan to also wait months on end before making a decision to play or retire, joins a team that is very well rounded in the Canucks. Offensively and defensively, the team is very sound. There are, however, issues with Sundin signing as a Canuck.
First of all, the Canucks play in the Western Conference. Powerhouse clubs such as the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks play here. The West, from 1-to-2, is locked down by the former two teams. Three-through-seven, however, is fairly up for grabs. Now, signing Sundin was done for the sole purpose of having the Canucks compete with the teams listed above – however, without superstar goalie Roberto Luongo, the team cannot do this. They must now pray that Luongo’s groin injury is not a long-term injury, and that he will be able to play again this season, and hopefully, the calibre that his reputation has earned him.
Also, where does he play? Surely not with the Sedin twins, since his signing was done to generate more offense from outside of that line. Sundin would logically play between Pavol Demitra and Kyle Wellwood. This means that their second unit will consist of the Sedin twins, and one of either Jannik Hansen, Steve Bernier or Taylor Pyatt. Sundin is expected to join the team right after Christmas – possibly after the trade freeze, which ends December 27th.
But teams aside, Sundin has done a selfish deed. Sundin, last season, had refused to waive his no-trade clause after former interim GM Cliff Fletcher had asked him to do so. Sundin decided that allowing a trade would be like giving up on the team that he’s played for for 13 seasons, and he could not allow himself to do so. Selfish.
Had Sundin waived his no-trade clause last season, the Leafs could have *easily* received draft picks, or young talent to accommodate the rebuilding of this franchise. The Montreal Canadiens were rumoured to have a deal in place, which would have seen them acquire Sundin for F Chris Higgins, a very good, hard-working young player, as well as a first round pick. But no. Sundin, now an unrestricted free agent, decides to sign for free, with the Maple Leafs receiving nothing in return for his services.
Why did he do this? Who knows. My guess is that he’s a self-centred attention-craving person. Sundin has said, when asked if he was willing to waive his no-trade clause, that he would not be a rental player. He said he would not do what D Scott Neidermayer and F Teemu Selanne did with the Anaheim Ducks. He didn’t want to give up on the team that he called home. The team that he put so much time and effort into, the one that had his blood, sweat and tears all over it, through the good times and bad.
Rather than knowingly benefitting the team by waiving his no-trade clause, Sundin “stuck it out” and didn’t help the team at all – they haven’t receiving anything for him signing with the Canucks, they didn’t make the playoffs last year with him helping, and they’ve made no advances anywhere for him staying.
Now, Sundin has signed a one-year/$10MM deal, declining the original two-year/$20MM deal offered to him this summer. Had Sundin signed at the beginning of the season, there would not have been a bidding war between the half-dozen teams that there was now. He also wouldn’t have received $10MM to play half the season.
Mats Sundin is also 38-years-old in a few weeks. He’s not young. Mats also didn’t play any hockey, or complete any training, during his days off when the NHL started. Since the lockout, the NHL has rewarded speed and skating, something Sundin still has, as seen in his games last season. But can an out-of-shape 38-year-old compete with the Zetterberg’s, Datsyuk’s, Iginla’s, Thornton’s, Toews’, and Kane’s in the West? I think not. Sundin is going to have to hit the ground running when he starts playing – he has a significant gap to jump in terms of getting back into game shape, and in order for him to be worth the $10MM that he signed for, and for him to be able to compete at the level that the Canucks expect of him, as well as the level that he expects from himself, he’s going to have to produce at his point-per-game clip immediately. He’s also going to have to stay healthy.
Flashback. In 1997, the Canucks signed 36-year-old F Mark Messier to a three-year/$20MM deal. The Moose recorded a career-low 60 points in 97-98, and the following two years, he was riddled by injuries. Messier finished with 153 points in three seasons, an average of 53 points per season. Messier couldn’t provide the way he was used to, and the Canucks failed to make the playoffs the three years that Messier play with them.
How will Sundin’s reception be on February 21st, when the Canucks come to Toronto? My guess would be a mix of boos and cheers. He did, however, not sign with the Canadiens or the Ottawa Senators, two of Toronto’s fiercest rivals. He did, however, stop the team from rebuilding for a number of years.
Will Sundin show flashes of Mark Messier? Can Sundin compete with the rest of the league after so much time being inactive? Does Mats truly deserve the chance to win a Stanley Cup? The latter question is a yes, but the rest remains unknown. We’ll have to wait and see what Sundin makes of this situation. After all, he could flop, or, he could be the missing piece that hurdles the Canucks over the logjam in the Western Conference and gets them to the Stanley Cup.