January 26, 2006
Sundin trade will not happen
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
One of the attractions of sport is speculative discussion. You always can wonder what might have happened if Mario Lemieux had enjoyed good health, or if someone other than Gary Bettman were National Hockey League commissioner. Or what might happen if Mats Sundin were traded.
Arguing with friends about such matters generally is entertaining and probably even good for your health. You can blow off a bit of steam and forget about some of the other problems in your life.
But if you're going to do it, you can save yourself a lot of embarrassment if you know the facts, and the hot topic of Sundin's status leaves a lot to be desired in that regard.
First of all, it must be pointed out, as the original Toronto Sun story made perfectly clear, Sundin has not asked for a trade and has no intention of doing so. If you listen to the radio too much, you might get a different idea.
But that aside, why would it make sense for the Leafs to trade Sundin, even if they wanted to?
His salary next season will be $7.6 million US. The season after that, it will be $4.56 million.
This is no longer the free-trade era in hockey. This is the salary-cap era, the system that so many fans said during the lockout that they wanted.
They didn't want players earning market value for their services. They wanted a restrictive, artificial system that favoured the owners.
So that's what they have, and the result is that when a wealthy team like the Leafs decides it would like to stock up for the playoffs, or even for subsequent season, it is prevented from doing so.
If the Leafs were to want to get rid of Sundin, they'd be on the other side of that coin. They wouldn't be able to find a team that could take on Sundin's salary in an attempt to strengthen itself.
For the most part, the teams that have a good shot at the Stanley Cup don't have enough room under the salary cap to take on a guy who is earning $6.84 million and due for a raise.
If you're going to take on a salary that large, you have to dump one that's in the same range. So how does that help you load up for the playoffs? You're getting one high-level player, but you're going to have to give one up. That's not loading up; that's breaking even.
There are some exceptions -- the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes for example.
But these were two of the more militant chop-the-payroll teams during the lockout. The mindset of the ownership is such that they'd be highly unlikely to assume a whopping salary like Sundin's.
And let's not forget that there is peer pressure among the owners. If those two teams were to reverse a long-held stance simply because they're having a good year, their owners would be subjected to a great deal of abuse from their colleagues.
And even if they did do it, what would the Leafs get in return? By definition, it would have to be young, unproven talent. Is that really the direction the Leafs want to take? They'd give up someone like Sundin for two or three kids who may, or may not, make the big leagues some day?
In a 30-team league, if you're good enough to make a serious impact in the NHL, you're probably already there.
And it's not as if Sundin is having such a great year that teams would be fighting to get him. If you look at players of his salary around the league, he's one of the least attractive. There is a clear correlation in today's hockey between the success of the team and the success of that team's high-salaried players.
So chat about a Sundin trade all you want. But keep it hypothetical. It isn't going to happen.