I was talking with Mats Sundin, just an instant before he was to take so more questions at yesterday’s Right To Play press conference.
“Mats,” I said. “You see this piece of paper?”
He said he did.
“All you have to do is take a pen and divide the paper in two. On the one side you put the pros, on the other, the cons. Honestly, how hard is that?”
The big man smiled. “Why not just flip a coin?” he said.
And that’s what it is. Whether Mats Sundin plays again, whether he does it for the Leafs, whether he does it before or after Christmas or in the playoffs… it’s a coin flip.
We don’t know, because he doesn’t know.
This is all he has been saying. And, as inconceivable as it seems, he’s telling the truth.
He hasn’t figured out whether he wants to play a game for which many of us would sacrifice one or more of our siblings.
Demi Moore slept with Robert Redford for $1 million. Mats Sundin can’t figure out whether he wants to play hockey for twenty times that in Vancouver or whether he just wants to do whatever pops into his mind.
This is not to say there is no answer. There always is an answer. It’s just buried, somewhere beyond emotion, which Mats Sundin possesses in surprising degree, and reason, on which he damn near holds the patent.
I think this is a grand experiment for Mats Sundin. Indentured, albeit for a spectacular price, through 17 NHL seasons, he is now his own man. He has let slide the rigid discipline off his off-season regimen. It seems to agree with him.
“I have earned the right,” he has said more than once, “to make up my mind.”
This is what you get when you hire captains with integrity, imagination and curiosity. They do not always go where they are supposed to, don’t return on cue, don’t act and think like everyone else.
Mats Sundin is shelving his old life, of schedules and check-ins, of interviews and commitments, for that of a Swedish squire who, Thursday for example, he flew across the continent to lace em’ up Friday’s charity hockey game for Right To Play.
Maybe he will find he likes this new life. Or maybe he will wake up one day, recognizing a deepening need that had been hovering like a hummingbird around the borders of his consciousness.
Maybe he needs the game. Certainly, if he is to play, he needs to be a star.
“If I want to play in the National Hockey League, the best league in the world, I want to play the way I have in the past.” he said.
Those who know him insist that Sundin could never be a second banana. He has been the best player on his team just about every minute of his life since he was a teen.
This is who he is.
But soon, this is not who he will be. Time will take care of that. Maybe it already has.
And so the question, with the money long since made, with the Stanley Cup a mathematical long shot no matter where he goes, with his beloved Leafs hopeful of just finding their legs, does he want to do all the things he needs to do to be Mats Sundin.
Or does he just become a different Mats Sundin. Is the other guy, the guy who isn’t a hockey player, just an extremely rich, cultured celebrity, ready to take over?
Mats Sundin just may be the one in a thousand who hears the wheezing in the wings and knows who it really is.
“You can always play for the Marlies,” joshed Doug Gilmour, who will be assistant coach for that team this season.
That, of course, is one of the few things we know won’t happen. Anything else, well it’s a coin flip.