Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't cry for Mats

On Hockey Day in Canada, Mats Sundin made his return to Toronto as a Cannuck. The fans at the ACC cheered and adored him for the most part, to honor the 13 years he spent with the team and how he wore the captain’s “C” with such class for so many years. Mats deserved all the adoration and his teary response to the fans was real and moving. That was the wonderful part of the return for me. Fans who loved him and he who loved the fans and the city. Both treated him very well while he was a Leaf.

The debate over the departure is the part that bothers me. I have seen and listened to commentators who say they are “disgusted” by those who question Mats for not agreeing to waive his no trade clause in his final year to help the franchise which helped him so much. Disgusted? I love a good debate, but I don’t hate or condemn those who debate against me. You are disgusted by anyone’s opinion which doesn’t align with yours? Really. Wow that is the kind of intellectual arrogance usually reserved only for politics not hockey.

I agree with the basic facts here. Mats Sundin had the no trade clause and it was his right to choose. There are many rights all of us have, but not all are weighed evenly against good taste. It is legal to burn the flag, but most people find it distasteful as a form of protest.

The question is not whether he had the right to exercise his no trade clause, but was it the selfish thing to do? That’s really the question here. How do people feel about Mats doing what was best for him and not the franchise despite the fact he had the right to choose?

Mats at the time said he didn’t believe in being a rental player and that you are only a part of a team if you go through camp, pre-season, regular season and the playoffs as a member of that team. Joining Vancouver mid-way through this season clearly means he has changed his mind on that very important point of integrity. On the weekend Mats expanded on that saying that the Leafs were only 6 points out of a playoff spot and he thought the team could make the playoffs and he wanted to stay and be a part of that. Well if Mats really thought that team could make the playoffs, he was in very select company since the clubs management made it very clear to everyone they didn’t think it was possible as evidenced by the fact that they asked all the important players to waive their no trade clauses, not just Mats.

On the topic of what the Leafs “owed” Mats for his years of service, I find this one tough to understand. Mats has everyone’s admiration as a standout player, wonderful leader and classy gentleman through many turbulent times in Leaf Nation. Other than that admiration the Leafs don’t owe him anything. Mats has earned over 74 million dollars in his playing career so far and most of it in Toronto. His thanks was deposited in his account on the 15th and the 30th each month for 13 years. It should be noted that no player has earned as much or more than Mats without also winning the Stanley Cup. There are many great players who have made a great deal of money and not won, but Mats is at the top of this list. I only state this because we are talking about what Mats is “owed”.

The biggest question fans debate is, did Mats owe the Leafs something for all that adoration and cash. Was it fair to ask Mats to waive to the no trade clause so they could start refilling the franchise tank? It was fair to ask, just like it is fair for players to ask for more money, better terms or no trade clauses in their contracts. There is nothing demeaning or insulting with asking. Did Mats in fact have a moral responsibility to a franchise and fan base which had given him so much, and I believe the answer is yes if we take Mats himself at his word.

Mats is the one who has said over and over how much he loved the Leafs, the city and the fans. If that’s true then you make personal sacrifices for the things and people you love. We all do that in our personal lives all the time for a family and friends, but up to a point. Mats simply didn’t love the Leafs, the city and Leaf Nation enough to do something he didn’t want to do. No harm in that. It simply points out Mats love for the Leafs had limits and being traded was one of them.

This points out one of the oldest adages in life. Judge a man by what he does, not by what he says. Too often they are different things. The actions of Mats Sundin do not match his words. It doesn’t diminish his contribution to the Leafs for 13 years it just means he had a no trade clause, no desire to move and no concern about what that might do to the Leafs. It’s not what he said it’s what he did that tells the story.

See you at the rink.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Loyalty and Trust

And the coaches just keep falling. Craig Hartsburg and Curtis Hunt lost their jobs yesterday because the players either couldn’t or wouldn’t buy what they were selling. I was asked yesterday if “Hartsburg lost the players”. I am not sure he ever had them. That is not an indictment of Hartsburg but rather the players. In the last year this team will now have had four coaches. John Paddock, Bryan Murray, Craig Hartsburg and now Corey Clousten. Are they all bad coaches? No in fact all are very good coaches. So what is the common denominator here? The core of this team is the same and maybe that is the problem. There are some very talented hockey players who, for what ever reason, do not seem to want to battle at a high enough level to make this team competitive every game. It also seems that no matter how many times true consequences are threatened, it just doesn’t happen and that causes everyone to wonder about all the accountability that has been promised.

To be sure this team is not as skilled as it was 2 years ago, but it still has more than enough talent to be better than the worst offensive team in the NHL. The microscope is centred squarely on Bryan Murray and the players. Murray will be watching very closely to see how this group of players reacts to yet another coaching change and that inspection will play a major part in who might be leaving or at least on the block at trade deadline time. Murray will be judged by ownership on how he evaluates and tries to fix this team

Bryan has all the experience needed and is also well aware his job might be the next one on the block. Knowing Bryan I know he will not make a move to save his job if it’s a bad move for the team long term. History may show us that Bryan’s biggest mistakes may have been made out of loyalty and trust. Loyalty to players who might not feel any sense of guilt in not trying to repay that loyalty. Trust in expecting some of those players to do the things they said they would at the level they said they could.

While I can not foresee what will happen next I do know this is the beginning and not the end of this. No matter what type of results Clousten has from here until the end of the season, this team’s make up will change before next season starts. The only question is how big will those changes be and will they all be wearing skates. In this game players always have an impact on those in the sport who don't play. Players play well and its extensions and raises. Players play poorly its firings and demotions.

Whether they know it or not, accept it or not, their play decides many futures.

See you at the rink.