Friday, December 19, 2008

Our Long North American Nightmare is Over

The white smoke has issued forth from the Sundin Camp, “habemus consultum” (our apologies to the Latin scholars out there).

And the decision is… Vancouver.

Our old pal from New York had a ready explanation for the decision:

"Mats Sundin made like Woodward and Bernstein following Deep Throat's advice. He followed the money. "

An ironic turn of phrase, given that the original “Deep Throat” – W. Mark Felt, Sr. – passed away yesterday. Nonetheless, it probably has never occurred to the likes of Larry Brooks, whose vision extends only to edges of Manhattan Island, that Sundin was always a better fit for the Canucks in a hockey sense. New York already had splurged last year on centers in Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. That Drury is having something of an off year (he’s on a pace for fewer than 50 points, which would challenge his career low) does not change the fact that someone was going to find a new position to make room for Sundin, and what’s more, the Rangers would have to make room on the roster by moving players to accommodate his pro-rated salary.

On the other hand, Vancouver was well under the salary cap (more than $7 million, according to the Vancouver Sun), so they could accommodate the pro-rated portion of Sundin’s salary without undue effects on the roster. And, the Canucks actually needed a center. Henrik Sedin has 28 points in 32 games, which isn’t terrible, but he has only four goals among those points, but no other center on the Vancouver roster has as many as 20 points.

If Sundin was following the money, was he doing it at the expense of a chance to win? That’s not an idle consideration for a player who will be 38 in less than two months. Both Vancouver and the Rangers are solidly in the playoff mix at the moment. The difference is that the Canucks have been doing it without Roberto Luongo in goal for almost a month. His return can only make the Canucks stronger. Vancouver might have the rougher road to travel, what with San Jose and Detroit in their side of the draw, but the Rangers are arguably no better than the third best team in their own division (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia laying a claim to being superior teams), and have won an inordinate number of games via gimmicky means (8-1 in shootouts). The Rangers, even with Sundin, are no lock to make the playoffs and would probably not be considered a good bet to advance far, unless goalie Henrik Lundqvist is hot.

If Sundin was about the money, then why, as reported by Pierre LeBrun at, would he have taken a discount to allow the Canucks to shop for more parts? Had the Rangers signed Sundin, even at the pro-rated lesser amount they could offer, and even if he had taken a similar discount to that which he is reported to have taken in Vancouver, would the Rangers have the flexibility to add a part here or there? The arithmetic suggests that they would not, not easily at least.

But at the end of the day, this is a pretty bad soap opera. Sundin begged off on waiving a no-trade clause last year to remain a Toronto Maple Leaf. Then, he sits out a third of a season to ponder offers as if he was a center-for-hire. Toronto was denied an opportunity to improve their roster out of some version of, what does one call it, “loyalty?” And then that is tossed out the window by virtue of the slow-motion train wreck that has been this interminable drawn out saga of “Days of Our Mats?” Taking the better dollar offer doesn’t do anything to polish the tarnished reputation, either.

The only question of any relevance going forward is, “will Mats matter?” He’s probably not going to dress for a game until perhaps the game on December 26th against Edmonton, which will be game 36 on the Canuck schedule. And, given the hiatus, it’s difficult to believe he’s going to be a difference maker right out of the gate. He might be the most consistent point-a-game player of his generation – it does not make him Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin when it comes to offensive fireworks. If he plays the last 47 games, 40 points seems to be the ceiling here. By himself, Sundin isn’t going to have the effect that the return of Roberto Luongo will have.

This deal probably says more about Vancouver and general manager Mike Gillis than it does about Sundin. Despite the lengthy wait while Sundin was pondering his choices, despite the growing sentiment that Sundin would pick the Rangers in the end, Vancouver was steady and persistent in pursuing the player. The offer doesn’t seem to have changed since first laid on the table months ago. It speaks to how the Canucks might move forward – quietly, persistently, doggedly – in using that money Sundin left on the table.

If you’re going to “follow the money,” as Larry Brooks hinted, follow that money and watch what the Canucks do in finding those last pieces in a couple of months. Those might be the more important moves in the end.


Marky Narc said...

Not to mention passing on New York means he doesn't have to deal with Larry Brooks on a regular basis, amirite?

The Peerless said...

Life does have its bonuses.

Anonymous said...

This saga is like Redskins football coverage, leaves you asking yourself is there any real sports news going on?

The Peerless said...

The next big story will be the over-under on how many games it takes for Sundin to have a groin injury.

I'll take "one."