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Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Sundin Aftermath: He stays, who wins??

It looks like John Ferguson Jr. has risen from the grave and stabbed the hearts of Leaf fans yet again. By giving captain Mats Sundin transcendental ability to veto any and all trade offers the former general manager handed the new one a shroud knot that proved too securely fastened. Yes, Mats will remain a Maple Leaf and thus divide the fans of the blue and white into one of two camps:
1. Mats is a selfish jerk. The Leafs are destined for innumerable seasons in the dumpster.
2. Mats has earned the right to choose and I admire a captain who goes down with his ship, regardless of how bad my team will be next season.

But, wait! We needn't be shortsighted and hasty to judge Mats, particularly without considering the outcome of his decision, rather than the decision itself. Its not like whatever Cliff Fletcher could have received in return for Mats Sundin would have turned them around fast enough to sneak into the playoffs. Even if this miraculous feat occurred it would be ill conceived -- they need to be bad for a good pick, so keeping the current good-enough-for-14th-place nucleus together is paradoxically advantageous -- it's just the nature of the cycle in sports where you have to be bad to be good.

There is yet another simple scenario whereby Mats can atone (assuming one demands atonement, as per above) for this trade deadline decision. When he sits down to re-negotiate his contract prior to next season, he will be given the opportunity to demonstrated where his allegiances lie. Assume he agrees to a sizable pay cut; so sizable that the Leafs now have $4-5 million extra dollars in which they can do as they please. Surely having Mats in addition to $4-5mil extra under the cap would perk up a few Leaf fans on this otherwise gloomy day?

As for the other party in this negotiation, signing Mats for pennies on the dollar is the only scenario in which we'd judge Cliff Fletchers' brief reign as a success. Notwithstanding the fact that JFJ left him with an organization in the contractual Clink, Fletcher has yet to improve the Toronto Maple Leafs, precisely what he was hired to do.

Unfortunately for Cliff, it could get much worse before it gets better. What if Mats retires? Imagine the ire of the Leafs Nation in the event Mats hangs them up at the end of this season abruptly erasing the optimistic picture painted above? Cliff Fletcher would instantly be transformed from The Silver Fox to The Horses Ass. His legacy being forever tarnished in the process (once again, thanks in part to JFJ and MLSE).

Since Toronto will be talking about this for the remainder of the year -- and sadly -- for many seasons to come, I thought it necessary to enlighten my readers with the above considerations. Please go forth, and spread the reason and rationality you've gleamed from this piece throughout the streets and airwaves of Southern Ontario and save us from the clamoring fools who think Mats, JFJ, Cliff and the MLSE board should leap from the CN Tower for their injustices upon hockey fans.

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