A friend of mine is a professional negotiator.
He was a big Mats Sundin fan. Past tense.
"I love everything Mats Sundin has ever done," he said, "But I lost all respect for him when he said he wouldn’t go to a rental team and then turned around and did it exactly that."
I thought of that. A professional negotiator.
Others chastise Sundin for vetoing a trade last year when it was clear to everyone but him that the Leafs weren't going to make the playoffs. Toronto had made Sundin richer than a Pharaoh. He could have re-signed here in the summertime. Why not, the thinking went, play along?
I get both arguments. It would have been lovely to cashier Sundin for prospects. And yes, he said he didn’t want to be a rental player and then accepted a deal from Vancouver when all the others dried up.
I would in fact put plenty of stock in both complaints if either one meant spit.
The issue here is human nature. Not Sundin's nature. Ours.
Here's what we know about Mats Sundin that we didn’t before. You wouldn't want to go to dinner with him because it probably takes him an hour to decide on a meal. He dithers.
Other than that, the picture is unchanged from his 13 years here.
Let me ask you some questions.
Did he break his contract?
Did he ever quit trying, no matter how dismal the team around him?
Did ever say "Hell yes, you’re right. Why don’t they get someone beside me who can play?"
Did he scissor the C of his sweater?
Did your heart ever sag when you saw 13 go over the boards and on to the ice?
Did he cup his hands over his ears to milk more applause?
Did he pooch it in the corner?
Did he fail to go to the net?
Did he let himself heal completely before returning from gruesome facial injuries?
Did he say Don Cherry was an idiot or that Canadians have self-esteem issues?
Did he muse about playing in a warm-weather city?
Did he ever hold out?
Did he ever hit a guy from behind?
Did you ever hear a player say something bad about him?
Did he play soft in Philadelphia? Did he ever throw a teammate under a bus?
Did he ever fail to take a 'you' question and rephrase it into a 'we' question?
Even once, did he stick the knife into a coach's back?
Did he beg off from taking a big face-off?
Did he ever hurt a player by being careless with his stick?
Did he ever whine about the media in Toronto?
Did you ever boo him when he was playing here?
Did he make any decision that he wasn’t absolutely entitled to make under the terms of the contract between Sundin and the Maple Leafs.
Did he hurt himself water skiing?
Was he in a steroids scandal?
Were there ever rumors about him and another players’ wife?
Did he ever miss games because of poor conditioning?
And oh, yes. He was one of the two or three best players in the history of the franchise.
So what are we talking about here?
Mats Sundin never said much, but never said the wrong thing. He didn’t leave the Leafs, the Leafs left him when Cliff Fletcher, as his is prerogative, tried to deal him for players and prospects. He wasn’t coming back last summer.
His time was over.
I think people need to feel betrayed by Mats Sundin. He has, by mutual consent, cleaved from the roster and there is no current player left who, in his absolute apex, will ever touch him.
We can’t cheer him any more. So what is left?
Just the pettiness that comes with no longer having what we want. What we built up, we must now tear town. It’s how we are.