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Big Mats is Back

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks
FRIDAY


North of the border

Welcome to Toronto my blog friends. I arrived here at Lake Shore Lions Arena only moments ago for the Leafs practice. Even though practice isn't scheduled to begin for about 15 minutes, a few guys are on the ice, including Lee Stempniak, Tomas Kaberle and Mike Van Ryn, who are both hurt.

I'm told Kaberle is due back in 7-10 days. No word on Van Ryn.

That's a story for another day.

We all know why I'm here. Mats Sundin is not in Toronto yet, but I am and the media room here at the dingy arena that's on its last legs is filling up. I'm sure there will be some local reports on the Leafs after last night's 4-3 loss to Columbus, but this weekend is all about Mats.

The Canucks, who won in Ottawa last night, 5-2, remained in the nation's capital overnight and are practicing there today before heading to Toronto. There is not supposed to be any media availability with Sundin today, so we won't get to hound him with questions until tomorrow.

Here's hoping they set him up in a press conference because if it's going to be done in the locker room, that place is just going to turn into a zoo of the worst kind. Think A-Rod, only smaller but in a much more confined area.

I'll be chatting with a few Leafs today about what they think of their former captain's return. My guess is not too much, but we can't just make up the stories, now can we.

By the way, Brad May's kid is on the ice and he's pretty darn good. Just thought I'd throw that out there. Jason Blake is out there now as well.

Check back later for more updates from the Leafs. And, if anybody cares, my journey here this morning was about as smooth as it could be. I even had a smart cabbie who was able to find this arena despite my horrific directions. That was money well spent.

Chat later...


THURSDAY


What should I expect?

The talk all week in the Toronto and Vancouver papers and seemingly everywhere in between in Canada has been about Mats Sundin's return to Toronto.

Surprise, surprise.

I remember leafing through the schedule when the big Swede signed with the Canucks back on Dec. 18. I wanted to know if the Canucks were headed to the big TO and when that would be. I remember finding Feb. 21 on the schedule and immediately telling my boss, "We should be there for that one."

A little more than two months later, here we go.

Well, officially I'll be leaving Friday morning, taking an 8:50 a.m. flight out of Newark so I can arrive in time for the Maple Leafs scheduled noon practice. Right now it's almost 4 p.m. ET Thursday and I'm currently sitting in our New York office waiting for a pair of phone calls. My mind, though, has already made the trip north of the border even though I haven't even packed yet for my two-day visit to the circus.

And, yes, that is what Sundin's return to Toronto is going to be.

I'll be one of the clowns performing. Sundin's the big elephant in the room. Thankfully, I can't picture anybody walking the tight rope. At least, I hope not.

I've been reading stuff all day about how some fans will boo him, but most of that will be drowned out by the cheers. I've asked the Leafs PR department if there is anything planned in the way of a tribute for Sundin, but they didn't want to reveal anything. I like it better that way. It adds to the evening. It makes the spectacle better when you don't know what to expect going in, and I seriously don't know what to expect at the ACC on Saturday night.

Cheers? Boos? A video tribute? Who knows?

What we do know is Sundin played 13 seasons in the blue and white and became the franchise's all-time leading scorer last season. It shouldn't matter if you are still mad at him for the way his tenure in Toronto ended because his time there deserves to be applauded by everyone in the building and every Leafs' fan glued to their TVs or computers.

Now, if you are still mad at him for the way he departed, that's your right. He could have waived his no-trade clause last season and gotten the Leafs a gold mine of prospects and/or draft picks in return. He didn't because, as he says, he thought Toronto still had a chance at making the playoffs and he didn't want to give up hope before March. His loyalty needs to be appreciated as well, even if some of you may think it was misguided.

The thing that gets a lot of fans out there is how Sundin returned this season. He's a half-season rental player for the Canucks and that is something he apparently never wanted to become. Than again, if it's true that the guy simply found the desire to play in the NHL again and the Canucks ponied up the dough, isn't that his right and their right?

You'd have to agree, no?

My belief is Sundin will be greeted rather warmly Saturday night. I also expect the Toronto media will grill him pretty hard Saturday morning and the topic of mercenary rental player will come up quite often. Sundin is smooth and he'll be able to deflect a lot of that stuff. He will try to turn the focus onto the game and the Canucks playoff hopes. There will be questions on what he thinks of the state of the Leafs now. He'll answer those without giving much in the way of cannon fodder to the scribes and radio voices.

Starting Friday afternoon, I'll be posting to this blog on a regular basis to keep all of our readers informed. It plans to be one of the most emotional nights of the season in the NHL and you can catch it all right here on NHL.com.

If you have any questions or just want to voice an opinion, email me at drosen@nhl.com. I try to respond to all of them, and the good ones I'll post on the blog.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer

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