Following the Sundin Circus
There’s little doubt Mats Sundin is a good hockey player. A great hockey player even. The numbers don’t lie: a point-per-game player over his 1300-plus game career, 13 seasons with at least 30 goals and hardly a game missed due to injury. The guy was a model of consistency.
But at what point do you say enough’s enough? If you’re into hockey, it’s been hard to ignore the circus that has followed Sundin, 37, since he decided he was on the fence for his return to the game he supposedly loves.
We watched countless hours of TV sports network time dedicated to Sundin’s every move. We had “exclusive” interviews galore with Sundin, who gave us no new details. It was a giant advertisement for the Swedish star and the rest of the NHL, with him saying “I might come back, I might not, but if your team is interested, I’m here, and I’ll pick up the phone.”
He’s not the first player to do it either. A couple of years ago we saw Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne do the same thing. They waited until their “bodies could heal” and then they re-joined the Anaheim Ducks just before making a Stanley Cup run. We even saw the gong-show that was Brett Favre in the NFL and his “will-he, won’t-he” coverage. But when does a league/sports organization step in and say “if you don’t want to play, here’s your walking papers?”
The NHL needs a drop-dead date for all free agents. While it’s true these athletes are “free agents” and can do anything they want, the carrot leading the horse is getting pretty stale by mid-December. And this is setting a dangerous precedent for other stars when they become unrestricted free agents. Typically a UFA will go to the highest bidder, but now players are waiting for the highest bidder to have a good first half of the season before they make their final decision.
Imagine Jarome Iginla deciding to take half a season off before deciding he wasn’t going to come back to Calgary once he becomes unrestricted. Doesn’t this go against everything we’re trying to teach young hockey players? Building a team and making it a level playing field? Isn’t that why the NHL put a salary cap in place?
I can see Sundin’s point. He hasn’t won a Stanley Cup yet. But if he was that serious about it, he would have waived his no-trade clause near the trade deadline last season. That’s why I have the utmost respect for Ray Bourque. I would have loved to see him win with Boston, but he couldn’t so he cleared a trade to Colorado and all Bruins fans (despite some initial resentment) were at the very least happy to see No. 77 win it all.
Will Toronto fans be happy this year if Vancouver wins hockey’s holy grail? I have my doubts. The even bigger question surrounds whether Sundin will be back in a Canucks jersey next year or if he will pull this same stunt again. If I have to watch another update on whether Sundin had the chicken or the beef in the “Sundin Watch ’09” next season, I may have to make a Facebook group asking for his deportation. I’m THAT serious.
— Joe McFarland
-Joe McFarland is the arena host for the Medicine Hat Tigers and the News/Sports Director of 102.1 The Lounge in Medicine Hat. He’s been an NHL fan and follower since God was a child.