In an extraordinary gesture of principle, Mats Sundin has turned down what will likely be his last chance for a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He announced Sunday that he would not waive his no trade clause for a private jet to Vancouver, Anaheim, Detroit, or parts unknown.
He turned his back on a contract extension from a frontrunner to stay with a team at the bottom of the standings, a team that is rebuilding again.
Sundin rejected the notion of a rental player, someone who arrives as the icing on someone else's cake. ``I have never believed in the concept of a rental player," he said in a release. "It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June."
Mats Sundin didn't think being a rental player was honourable. Honourable. When was the last time you heard that word in sports? Chew on some names: Roger Clemens, Marion Jones, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Floyd Landis, Bill Belichick. Honourable.
No one knows better than Sundin how desperately needed are the prospects that would have come back to the Maple Leafs in trade. His burden is exacerbated every night by their absence.
But the thing about prospects is that not all of them pan out. Human beings break. They fail unaccountably and succeed beyond anyone's expectations. You don't know.
Let us say that two roster players will not be coming to the Leafs. Now weigh those against factors that are equally nebulous, things like loyalty, integrity, and respect for the uniform.
Look, the Leafs have fallen on times so hard they have, justifiably, looked to jettison their number one asset. Problem is, he won't go. Mats Sundin sees something, something you can't find in the standings.
He wants to stay, and if he can't finish the job, he can at least nurse it along.
What is the value of having Mats Sundin for the rest of the season and one can only think next year as well, mentoring Anton Stralman, the emerging Alex Steen, Nikolai Kulemin
and Jiri Tlusty. Should the Leafs hit the lottery jackpot and land Steven Stamkos, how valuable will his presence be?
What Mats Sundin did may not be great for the roster. But it is great for the uniform he has worn these 13 years.
He remains optimistic that the Leafs can be righted. In a world where free agents routinely go the least desirable location for one dollar more, Mats Sundin chose the Maple Leaf.
You don't get rid of people like that. You cherish them because they are, and because they represent, the best elements of the best people you've ever had, the Wendel Clarks, the Ted Kennedys, the George Armstrongs, the Syl Apps.
When the last of the players Mats Sundin would have fetched in trade goes home, people will still remember Mats Sundin as the captain of the Maple Leafs.
They will remember because of all the commodities needed in sports and even in life, honour is the one we miss most poignantly.
As much as goals and assists, it is what Mats Sundin brings. It is priceless.