January 26, 2006
Sundin silent about club treatment
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
The existence between coach and captain has forever been uneasy.
No matter how Mats Sundin chooses to translate it for public consumption.
He won't open up now. He never will. It isn't him. He won't let the outside in. Instead, he keeps peace in the family, the way captains should, the way he always has, and he shares his feelings only with a close few.
Not with management. Not with ownership. Not even with his coach.
That he doesn't want to be traded is apparent to anyone who knows him well and always has been. This is where he wants to play. But that doesn't mean there aren't philosophical problems between he and Pat Quinn. That doesn't mean that Sundin is entirely comfortable with how things are.
If anything, in this Maple Leafs season going nowhere, those difficulties have festered, and unlike other seasons in which Sundin didn't like what was going on, suddenly it his own play that has come into question: He doesn't like what he himself is accomplishing -- he has very high standards -- and that makes this time all the more challenging.
In a way, it has always come down to vision and interpretation. Quinn has chosen to view Sundin one way. Sundin views himself quiet differently.
Quinn deploys Sundin in an almost restrained egalitarian manner. Go back to the biggest games the Leafs have played under Quinn and it's hard to make the case that he relies no more on his best player, his highest-paid player, than he does on several others who are not Sundin's equal, in salary or in talent.
Go back to the last playoff game the Maple Leafs played: Keith Primeau, then a dominant centre with the Philadelphia Flyers, played 41 shifts, all the important minutes. Sundin played nine fewer shifts, three fewer minutes of ice time: The bigger star in the biggest game wasn't given the opportunity to be the bigger star that night -- or most nights. And Sundin, who was brought up not to question authority -- certainly not in any public or self-absorbed way -- has never been totally satisfied with that approach.
That is why he has been less than a point a game player for the Leafs with more than a point a game talent. That is why in 575 games played under Quinn he has scored just 547 points.
And before Quinn relinquished the position of general manager, he was caught in his own illogical contradiction: It was under Quinn's management team that Sundin became one of hockey's highest-paid players. And it was under his coaching, that his salary forever has seemed greater than his impact. Only once in seven seasons under Quinn has the immensely talented Sundin scored more than 80 points in a season while many of his lessers have bettered those numbers.
Quinn, a believer in balance to his credit and to his detriment, has forever anchored him with a Jonas Hoglund or a Chad Kilger or a Mikael Renberg or a Nik Antropov, wingers who were given the ride of a lifetime but failed. Quinn paid Sundin like a star and just never played him that way.
Not then. Not now.
And so the Leafs find themselves in a fight for playoff survival, with Bryan McCabe out, with Darcy Tucker out, with Eric Lindros out, with three quality components missing on a team with not enough of them, and still Sundin plays with rookie Alex Steen. He plays less minutes than he should. He doesn't understand the concept of equal ice and probably will never agree that he should be the horse the Maple Leafs ride.
Sundin's season began poorly on opening night when he didn't get through the fourth minute. It has only come back in brief glimpses since. When the team is losing, the focus in this city always turns to coach and captain.
Mats Sundin would like nothing better than to play with the Leafs best wingers, to receive Jaromir Jagr ice time and the freedom that goes with it, to make certain he is always on the first power play.
He would like that. But it won't happen under Quinn. The profound tug of war will continue. The coach can't lose the tug, only the war.
SIMMONS HAS MORE TO SAY ON ...
Why is it necessary to define the place Mario Lemieux held in the hockey-playing world? Why is it necessary to determine if he was the equal of Wayne Gretzky? Can't he just be like art? Something we value, something we appreciate.
Darcy Regier is probably the least known, least talked about general manager in the NHL. Last summer, when everybody was chasing free agents, the boss of the Buffalo Sabres was stunningly silent. But the Sabres are comfortably in the playoffs.
The general manager of the Leafs doesn't know if his team is as strong as it was early or as weak as it has looked lately. Many of his quality players are free agents at the end of the season, so will he be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline in March?