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Only Mats Knows

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

There are many things we don’t know about Mats Sundin. He is as decent as an honest handshake and as chatty as an iceberg.

There is one thing we do know.

The end is near.

It may come with a trade.

It may come with his retirement at season’s end..

It may come with one more year and then goodbye.

But it is coming soon.

Age is one of the few non-negotiables. He is 37.

So maybe last night was the last regular-season Leafs game of Mats Sundin’s career. Maybe it’s 975 and bound for the playoffs somewhere else.

Or perhaps Monday in Ottawa will be the last time he wears this hue of blue.

It’s hard to guess when whatever is supposed to happen will happen. Sundin was ambivalent on when a trade or the imposition of his no-trade clause would happen.

“I’m sure, maybe we’ll know something tomorrow,” he said after last night’s 3-1 win over Atlanta.

He is sure. Maybe.

There is a solid chance that he will retire this summer after one of his best seasons. The Maple Leafs have 18 games left, excluding playoffs of course.  Only eight of those games are at home. Time’s a wasting, Toronto.

Last night at Air Canada Centre, 20,000 people came say something. They just didn’t know what it was. Goodbye. Thanks. Stay. Every player dressed. No clues were given and one, Bryan McCabe declined to comment on his plans.

Sundin said it didn’t go through his mind that this was his last night at ACC. You spend too much time thinking about the end, it comes sooner than you had planned.

But hockey is a game in which nothing lasts. In baseball, players stand in the sun for ours on end. A quarterback is on the field every instant his offence is in action. In soccer, nobody leaves.

In hockey, as soon as a player steps on the ice, the clock starts rolling. Every shift is a life of its own; it starts recklessly, ebbs and then makes way for the next. Countless life cycles wrapped into a bigger one, a season, wrapped again into a career. A nearly endless number of hellos and goodbyes. Nearly.

Sundin, as usual, did not disappoint last night. He tied the game 3:33 into the second when he ripped a one-timer past Kari Lehtonen on the power play. That evened things up for Mark Recchi’s first period power play marker. Alex Steen scored the winner in the third and Nik Antropov added another.

It was Sundin’s 25th goal of the season. He will finish the season as he finished all but one of his 13 seasons here, as the Leafs scoring leader. Barring a trade, of course.

Essentially, we are talking about divorce with a difference. When one member of a marriage wants out, the other party has to go along. It is, by the way, a wholly inequitable way of living your life. One party might think their life is set, their financial future secure. They turn down enticing offers to set up shop somewhere else.

And then one day they are pitched out of their home and told to get along.

The comparison stumbles at the no-trade clause which, for better or worse, represents the traditional view of marriage. Like the loyal spouse who provided relentlessly only to find his mate disinterested, Sundin faces unpalatable decisions.

He can stay. He loves Toronto, loves wearing the Maple Leaf. He has made his money and created his legacy. Now he wants a voice in how it finishes.

The Leafs, naturally enough, covet the prospects Sundin would bring, prospects that would accelerate the rebuilding program Cliff Fletcher has been brought here to launch.

To some onlookers, the ultimate act of loyalty would see Sundin go somewhere else and make one final sacrifice for the team.

But surely no one can begrudge Sundin, one of the top half-dozen players in franchise history, the right to pen his own epitaph.

“No matter what happens, I’m always going to love Toronto,” Mats Sundin said. “I’ve loved the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s been my home for the last 13 years and that’s never going to change. I hope people respect whatever decision that’s going to come out this.”
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