May 12, 2006
Mats pondering packing it in?
By STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun
Mats Sundin is selling his Forest Hill home and contemplating his future with the Maple Leafs.
This isn't just another real estate transaction.
There is more to this than a 'For Sale' sign.
There is the thought that the Leafs' best player is seriously considering retirement because of his disenchantment with the state of the hockey team.
In a Sundin kind of way, this is, for him, almost a public declaration: It's the only way he is comfortable communicating what he truly feels -- with subtext and mystery rather than words.
Sundin is home in Sweden now after a Florida vacation and unhappy with the Leafs, uncomfortable with the current management team and some aspects of ownership, truly wondering whether he wants to play again in the National Hockey League.
He hasn't asked to be traded. He won't ask. He may not want to play anywhere else. But the message remains: He is discouraged with the current Leafs team and may walk away from the game because of it.
Former Leafs player, Mike Walton, a close friend of Sundin's and also the listing real estate agent of his Dunvegan Rd., property, has been sworn to secrecy on Sundin's future.
"I've been instructed to say nothing," Walton said. "Everybody is calling and I'm saying nothing."
Sundin is 35 years old, with one year left on his Toronto contract, and finds himself further removed from the Stanley Cup than he has been at almost any of his 11 seasons with the Leafs. This past season was his most bittersweet as a professional -- the highlight being Olympic gold, the absolute low was a Leafs season that started with a serious eye injury and ended with the team just missing the playoffs.
The elation of one championship did not soften the hurt and disappointment of a Leafs season gone wrong.
Sundin's quiet contemplation is a further indictment of Leafs general manager John Ferguson, who is dancing as fast as he can on the job.
Sundin may, in fact, make a decision on his future prior to the July free agency date, thus leaving the possibility that he will leave the game before even seeing what this team may look like next season.
He expressed some of these views on a recent Florida vacation with former teammates Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, who were stunned to hear his remarks about the Leafs.
The relationship between Sundin and Ferguson has been frosty at best. The only communication between the Maple Leafs and their captain during the NHL lockout -- when teams were banned from communicating with their players -- came about when Ferguson called to inquire if Sundin would be renewing his luxury box at the Air Canada Centre. Sundin told Ferguson to call his agent, J.P. Barry, for the answer.
The two didn't speak even casually at the time.
And after winning the gold medal at the Turin Olympics, the highlight of his hockey life, Sundin was informed by the Leafs that he would be deducted a day's pay if he didn't immediately return to practice with the Leafs.
By comparison, the Buffalo Sabres told veteran defenceman Teppo Numminen, who lost in the gold-medal game, to take his time before reporting back to the club after the Games.
Sundin was also not pleased when Ferguson let both Roberts and Nieuwendyk, two teammates he held in high regard, get away last summer, not pleased that the GM miscalculated the importance of character on the team.
Among the players Ferguson acquired to replace Roberts and Nieuwendyk were Jason Allison, Eric Lindros and Jeff O'Neill -- none of whom would be considered team leaders.
Some Leafs watchers already have mistakenly connected Sundin's house selling to the breakup with his longtime girl friend, Tina. But the time frame doesn't work. He broke up with Tina during the lockout and has since begun a serious relationship with another woman.
Sundin did admit to enjoying the lockout year off, away from hockey, and is financially set for life should he choose not to return to the NHL.