Sundin skips surgery

Leafs captain Mats Sundin was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his hip, but will not require...

Leafs captain Mats Sundin was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his hip, but will not require surgery. (Sun File/Craig Robertson)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

This is a dangerous game the Maple Leafs are playing with Mats Sundin.

And this is a dangerous game of sorts Sundin is playing with his own future.

After seeing an orthopedic specialist in Sweden yesterday, it was determined that Sundin will not require surgery on the tear he has in his hip. Apparently, a summer's rest is what the doctor is ordering here -- or is it Sundin himself who is making the call?

Either way, this raises more questions for the Maple Leafs, about Sundin, about his future, about contract negotiations that have been taking place between general manager John Ferguson and Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry.

Ferguson and Barry have been negotiating for some time now. They would have preferred this negotiation proceed without any interruption or any news regarding Sundin's health issues leaking out.

As of yesterday, Sundin was aware of the negotiations, but not necessarily up on any of the term or figures that were being discussed.

The numbers going around are two years and $12 million US and that is somewhat rich for a healthy Sundin, in a salary-capped National Hockey League, with so many Leafs dollars already tied up by Ferguson.

Now consider this: Would you commit two years and $12 million to a potentially injured player?

And if you do, what happens then?

A number of NHL players have attempted to play with small tears in their labrum. They go it for a short time. They play with what they call nagging injuries.

Almost inevitably, they break down.

Mats Sundin is 36 years old and coming off his lowest goal-scoring season in a decade. Those numbers, his age and his goals scored, are not in dispute. Neither is the fact that he is a remarkable athlete with tremendous healing power. He has proven that over and over again in his career.

But during the past few years, some cracks have been on display. The old Sundin isn't playing like an old Sundin but he has been hurt more often in recent seasons than he was at earlier times in his career. At 36, athletes don't heal quicker. They don't come back from injuries faster.

Even miraculous athletes such as Sundin, who has missed fewer regular-season games than almost any star who has played the game.

But let's play what if for a moment. Ferguson has Bryan McCabe signed for another four years and Tomas Kaberle and Darcy Tucker for the same amount of time and has three more years of Pavel Kubina.

Add to that the eventual contract Sundin signs and -- give or take a million bucks -- that's $25 million a season for five veteran players who haven't been good enough to get the Leafs into the playoffs either this past season or the season before that.

That represents more than half of whatever the salary cap number ends up being for teams next season.

It also throws water on the youth kick Ferguson continues to sell to his small group of believers. But that's another story for another day.

The question Ferguson has to wonder about is this: How do you invest so much in a player who may be on the clock? Because that's what orthopedic specialists have indicated.

If Sundin has a tear in his labrum, small or otherwise, it won't heal on its own. He says it's feeling fine now -- and of course it is. He's not skating every day on it.

UNCLEAR

Truth is, he may be able to play with it. Truth is, he may be able to get by. Truth is, he may not.

There is nothing definitive here when dealing with a hip injury. Some orthopedic specialists will tell you that if you continue to play with this kind of nagging injury, you will break down. Then it becomes a matter of how and when. Some doctors will give you a time frame -- say 30 games --and some won't provide any time frame at all. Everybody is different.

But that means the clock is ticking and the situation is explosive.

The Leafs can't afford to make an expensive mistake.

Not after missing the playoffs two years in a row. All indications are Sundin and the Leafs will agree to a two-year contract sometime before July. After that, they start holding their breath and hoping that nothing goes wrong.


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