Sundin deal makes sense

SCOTT MORRISON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

You have to admire Mats Sundin.

The easy thing, some would even say the smart thing, for the Maple Leafs captain to do would be to abandon the sinking ship, announce he has waived his no-trade clause and prepare to be dealt to a Stanley Cup contender. But he refuses to ask out.

In his world, his job is to get the Leafs to the playoffs and beyond.

It may be an impossible dream, even just getting there, but you have to admire how unselfish he has been and continues to be.

Indeed, Sundin went on the other day to say that winning the Stanley Cup as a rental player wouldn't feel right either, if that was the reward for leaving Toronto.

As much as his desire to stay and to help the Leafs in their pursuit of a playoff spot is admirable and further proof of his leadership, it remains that barring the complete unforeseen, meaning an incredible turnaround on the ice, eventually the best thing Sundin could do for the team he loves and leads is to agree to leave before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

It's the easiest way for the Leafs to replenish the talent supply, in terms of being able to add good, young players and draft picks.

Now, for a variety of reasons, it gets dicey if the Leafs think they are still in the playoff hunt by mid-February, but even then chances are (again, barring a total reversal on the ice) they will only just get to the post-season, then go quietly into the night and the future will be no better.

So a trade still makes sense, except there are jobs on the line.

It's funny, but in some ways Sundin is, or will soon be, experiencing a typical Maple Leaf moment: He can't win for losing.

There are some who would accuse him of being selfish if he asked to be traded to a contender, and there are some who would say he is selfish if he decides to stay if asked to waive his no-trade clause.

The same applies to general manager John Ferguson, who needs to win now but also think about the future. He can't win for losing, either.

The bottom line is Sundin can always return as a free agent in the summer and he may return to a better team. Ferguson can't be quite so certain the same applies for him.

CAPITALS HAVE OPTIONS

If you read between the lines, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis does not intend to lose superstar Alex Ovechkin, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1 and could get offers in excess of $10 million US annually.

In one of his recent blogs, which was actually distributed by the Capitals yesterday, Leonsis offered the following:

"No mention of our team can pass, it seems, without noting Alex Ovechkin's contract status, and I can tell from postings in the blogosphere and message boards that this has a lot of fans worried. I respect Alex and (Capitals general manager) George McPhee's commitment to keep the negotiations out of the media and frankly have wondered who is making up some of the things I have read. As I have stated on numerous occasions, we couldn't be more impressed with Alex as a player and a person and we expect him to be in D.C. for a long, long time.

"I don't have much to add, but want to say this: We love Alex Ovechkin. I think he truly enjoys Washington and being a Washington Capital. He and George will keep working on a deal that will make both sides happy, and they have plenty of time to get that done. If Alex does become a restricted free agent, we have a collective bargaining agreement that protects teams from losing a player they drafted until age 27."

Meaning, if it gets to July 1 and Ovechkin isn't signed and another team puts in an offer sheet, then the Capitals can and will match the offer to retain his services.

There have been rumours in the blog world that the Capitals have been discussing, or at the very least are receiving, trade offers for Ovechkin. Whatever, no matter the deal, there is no way that franchise can either trade or survive without Ovechkin unless he makes it clear and public he wants out.

The thorny issue for the Capitals is what is the right number for Ovechkin? Sidney Crosby re-signed in Pittsburgh for an average of $8.7 million, do they pay Ovechkin more? Can they afford not to pay him more?

The same dilemma exists in Calgary, where defenceman Dion Phaneuf will become a restricted free agent this summer.

With captain Jarome Iginla earning $7 million per, how much works for Phaneuf knowing what he can probably get on the market?

And how much can the Flames pay, knowing it is tough to fill 26-plus minutes of ice time with draft picks?

IGINLA'S GOT HART

The NHL reached the actual midway point in the schedule on Saturday night, when Minnesota played Nashville in Game 615 (historians will remember the Predators won that game 4-1), so it is not too late to issue mid-season awards.

The Hart Trophy: As much as Vincent Lecavalier is probably the best player in the league, given the definition of the award, then the mid-season winner has to be Iginla. He has been brilliant for the Flames, a true leader, and it is hard to fathom them getting together in December and rolling into a new year with hope without him. Serious consideration has to be given Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo, as well.Without him the Canucks disappear off the left coast.

Coach of the year: At the halfway mark, it is hard to not suggest Detroit's Mike Babcock, whose team is first in goals for and goals against and first overall despite having its' share of significant injuries. But if the Phoenix Coyotes continue on the way they have played, it will be hard to overlook Wayne Gretzky.


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