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Sundin’s Return: To Boo or Not to Boo

February 21, 2009 | by RotoRob | Comments (3)
Will Leaf fans give Mats Sundin the gears Saturday, or will he be cheered?


Editor’s Note: This article comes to us courtesy of, a web site that focuses on the sports journalism scene in T.O. We will soon be engaging in a content-sharing arrangement with this site, so here’s a taste.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket. Unemployment is at a recent high, people are losing jobs, homes, etc. There is so much to talk about and yet the editors of the Toronto Sun in Friday’s paper actually had the balls to not only write about Mats Sundin’s return, but to shame Leaf fans into cheering for the guy. Are you kidding me? A freaking editorial on Sundin’s return? Pertinent snippets from the editorial and other stories on this issue can be found in quotes below.

“As hockey players say, the fans pay for the tickets and they have a right to cheer or boo whom they please. But we hope fans at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night cheer Mats Sundin when he takes the ice for the Vancouver Canucks. In his first trip back to the ACC in an opponent’s uniform, Sundin deserves respect. ”

What a total load of crap. Utter, 100 per cent crap. He “deserves” respect. He plays for another team! Since when are we “supposed to” cheer another team? We fans of Toronto teams take a beating from the press. We are suckers, idiots, too quiet, too cheap, too die-hard, too biased and now this? Enough.

This isn’t an attack on Sundin. This is a matter of fact. When he retires and gets his jersey raised to the banners that will be the time for respect. We are supposed to cheer a member of the opposition now?

“Anyone who doubts that, need only look at them this year, without him. There’s not much worth watching.”

With Sundin and the rest of his “crew” over the last three years, what exactly was there worth watching? That is not a condemnation on No. 13. It’s a fact. The results over the last nearly four seasons — with or without Sundin — have been the same, so don’t give me that crap.

“Sundin grew into an NHL superstar in a Leaf uniform and a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame. He merits our respect because he’s earned it. The old-fashioned way. One game at a time.”

I agree 100 per cent, he was a terrific athlete and player and representative of our team. We don’t have to cheer him Saturday night. He plays for another team. Every time Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux touched the puck in the middle of their legendary careers they got booed. We as fans don’t cheer the opposition (unless of course you are a paying member of tank nation). When those guys came to town later in a non playing life or on their last visit, when they were honoured, they got what the respect they deserved.

“Some will bitch Sundin never led the Leafs to a Stanley Cup, even as they praise other captains who failed to do exactly the same thing. Some will whine Sundin should have waived his no-trade clause last year for some late-season draft picks or talent. We don’t hold any of it against him. Sundin simply exercised a no-trade clause he fairly negotiated. It wasn’t a sneak attack.”

None of those are reasons not to cheer for him. I would have preferred he won a Cup, but that alone doesn’t warrant him not getting cheered. Let’s get this no trade clause thing over once and for all. Oddly enough, The Sun’s Steve Simmons hit one out of the park on Friday, especially on the issue of Sundin’s no-trade clause:

“The last important decision Mats Sundin made as captain of the Maple Leafs set his beloved hockey team back several seasons. There cannot be much disputing of that. Sundin’s decision to remain a Maple Leaf last winter was a determination based on loyalty, his own built-in naivete and a position he was entitled to take by the very contract he had signed. But his public rationalizations for not relinquishing the no-trade aspect of his contract have been proven over time to be contradictory, baseless or, at the very worst, dishonest. He said one thing and did the other. He said he couldn’t envision himself in another uniform. He said he didn’t believe in being a rental player, that to live through the Stanley Cup process, you had to start from the beginning.”

Bingo. He owed the team and its fans nothing. Nothing. He had, if nothing else earned a reputation of being truthful, so many hockey critics said it over and over — Sundin is a genuine guy. We were told to believe what he said. When Sundin said he wasn’t willing to move after talking to Borje Salming and that he always had believed you have to be with a team from day one, we were told to honour that. That is fine. I had no problem with that then. I have a huge problem when he goes back on that word. Can he change his mind? Of course he can. We all do. We certainly do in our own lives every day. We all don’t look into a TV camera with a tear in eye and say something as powerful and meaningful as he did. When you do so, and you go back on your word (lie) you better be prepared for the repercussions.

“If I were a paying customer of the Leafs, overpaying for a less-than-capable NHL product, I would boo Sundin with fervour. I would hold him partly responsible for making Brian Burke’s job as onerous as it is. You can’t play both sides of the fence. You can’t say you are staying out of loyalty, out of passion, and then do the opposite, without angering the passionate, without being held responsible for some of the carnage you left behind.”

Exactly. That, from Simmons, in comparison to this from his editors, is the gospel:

“And let’s get real. Leaf management was never serious about building a Stanley Cup contender around Sundin. Where were the wingers Number 13 needed when he was in his prime? The seats were full and so were the owners’ pockets. The Leafs made Sundin rich, too. What decent NHL player isn’t? But more than a superstar, Sundin was that increasingly rare phenomenon in hockey and professional sport — a role model. Tomorrow night, cheer. He deserves that much.”

Raise your hand if you truly believe, in your heart of hearts, brain of brains, despite what Wilbur says, that the owners didn’t want to win. That is complete and utter horsekaka (check out Private Eyes starring Tim Conway and Don Knotts for more). It is such a hollow line of crap. Where they successful? No. Did they make huge mistakes? Yes. Should we be furious? Yes. Did they not want to win? No, that is just plain dumb. Any idea how much more cash they would make if they had won?

“The fact he is a rental player now with Vancouver makes that all the more difficult to digest. Sundin may have been acting out of love for his Maple Leafs in making his decision last season, but his love, in this case, has proven to be selfish, contradictory and externally damaging.”

Someone give Mr. Simmons a prize.

Over at The Globe and Mail, Roy MacGregor takes a more philosophical look at the comeback:

“Still, Sundin is both a special player — 1,332 points in 1,321 NHL games — and a special person, a quiet captain for the Leafs who was both a model of consistency and a model citizen. At least until last year, when he chose to engage his no-trade clause and thereby denied the Leafs the chance to trade him for something, anything, that might have advanced the team’s rebuilding plans. Then there were the embarrassing poker ads on television, Sundin essentially endorsing the wonky notion that there is something sporting in a card game. And then there was the endless hemming and hawing over where he was going — the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa and Vancouver were all in pursuit — only to have him declare the Canucks had been his choice all along. If only he’d just said so.”

I had never really thought about the Poker ad. That actually is pretty funny.

“’I feel good about going back. Toronto is still a home for me. I spent 13 years within the city as a Toronto Maple Leaf, so it’s always going to be part of my heart. At the same time, once the puck drops, it’s going to be a game like any other game.’ Sure. And Barack Obama is going to be a president like any other.”

Exactly. Sundin was less than honest then and he is being less than honest now. The lie he told then was more hurtful, this more recent one more understandable.

Even Damien Cox, who is usually pretty sane when it comes to this stuff, wrote the following:

“But if Maple Leaf fans can imagine any time in the near future that their team will regain a sense of respect around the NHL and become an organization that celebrates excellence over mediocrity, they might want to reconsider their too-frequent reflex to boo. They boo Sidney Crosby like they once booed Bobby Orr, apparently because talent offends them. They showered derision upon Larry Murphy, who promptly moved to Detroit and won a couple of Cups with the Red Wings. They boo Daniel Alfredsson for an alleged crime of disrespect committed, interestingly, against Sundin, mimicking the Leaf captain’s petulant toss of his stick into the audience five years ago. For Sundin on Saturday, however, the only reasonable response should be two-fold. The man deserves a good, hearty round of applause, with a good number of those in attendance on their feet. He may not have contributed more to the Leaf organization than Doug Gilmour or Wendel Clark, but he surely didn’t contribute less and deserves similar treatment. Once the ovation is over, the Leafs should then try to knock his block off. Nothing illegal or cheap, but good, hard hockey that would leave Sundin leaving the ACC thinking it was no fun at all.”

What a farce. Why are people comparing a current player to two retired guys? Why are we comparing guys who got traded away as opposed to one who chose to walk away? The media were equally as culpable for running Murphy out of town as the fans. Every arena in the NHL boos every star player. Is there always a handful of that star player’s jersey in attendance? Yup. Do they still get booed? Hell, yes. Oh, and Damien, that happens in every sports arena in every league in North America. Do Laker fans cheer on LeBron James? Of course not. Do they overpay to see him? Hell, yes. Do some wear his jersey? Yup. Do they boo him? Yes — it’s what fans do!

“That’s how to produce a strong impression that the club has turned the page on the Sundin years and is marching towards a better future with pride rather than wasting time trashing former heroes.”

Ummmm, no. When he retires, honour him. While he plays for another team, you do as Simmons says, you boo. Or as you accuse most Leaf game attendees of doing, you sit on your hands (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).

“Leaf fans, really, should care about only two Sundin related issues. First, that the classy Swede grew sick of the screwed-up manner in which the Toronto operation was being run. Are things different under Brian Burke? We’re still learning the answer to that question. Second, as with any number of good players in recent years, Sundin left town without fetching any assets in return. This is an organization that has consistently been unable to understand that the best time to move athletes is at the peak of their value, not when they’ve outlived their usefulness. None of this was Sundin’s fault. Those who accuse him of lying to the Leafs about his true intentions are fools. Those who would jeer him upon his return belong to the same category.”

It’s fascinating that the guy who called Sundin the most honest and truthful Maple Leaf in recent memory is drinking the Kool-Aid. I agree with Damien’s first point above. I think it is hilarious, mind numbingly funny that out of one side of his mouth Damien says that Sundin didn’t lie, and out of the other Damien blames the buds for not getting anything for Mats. The worst part is that Damien is dead on with one of the Leafs’ biggest problems over the years, especially John Ferguson, Jr., being “unable to understand that the best time to move athletes is at the peak of their value, not when they’ve outlived their usefulness”. That is right. This is why Vesa Toskala should have been dealt last year. It’s why perhaps Matt Stajan and Dominic Moore should be dealt this year.

Berger was just on The Fan previewing his blog (thrilling, I realize). He did say one thing that was interesting. He really loves argyle sweaters. No, just kidding. He said that the reason this is such a big story is because there is nothing else to talk about. To a certain degree, he is right. He is right in that there is a huge void in this town with regard to interesting sports stories. The Hab boys who are being tied to some mobster may be able to tell us which is a better bet, the Leafs or the Raptors will finish dead last. Can you imagine the lull on March 6? At least between now and then we can focus on the deadline. What the hell do we do between that and the draft? Seriously! Back to reality…this is a big story because the press has nothing better to talk about. None of these guys cares about Sundin. They all care about selling clicks or papers. This is controversial and right now there just isn’t anything else out there.

I will say it one last time. People should do what they want to do. Those who cheer are a little bit nostalgic and I suspect a little bit like sheep, doing that which they are told to do. Those who boo, I hope you are booing the opposition, or at the very least the liar. Sundin was one hell of a Maple Leaf player. Some called him the quietest Maple Leaf leader ever. If true, he should have kept his mouth shut; it is that and not his play that got him in to trouble.


Read Simmons here.

Read The Sun idiot editors here.

Read Roy MacGregor here.

Read Cox here.

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