Simmons: Love for Mats was conditional

Mats Sundin with his wife Josephine during a pregame ceremony to commemorate the former Leafs'...

Mats Sundin with his wife Josephine during a pregame ceremony to commemorate the former Leafs' captain February 11, 2012. (QMI Agency)

Steve Simmons, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

The most endearing quality of Mats Sundin — his wide-eyed optimism — made him extraordinary popular with those he played with, and at times confounding to those who expected more of him.

It wasn’t only that Sundin was acquired in a deal for the hugely popular Wendel Clark that made his 13 seasons in Toronto less endearing than they should have been, it’s that often he was the opposite of what this city had come to admire.

Toronto wanted spectacular: Sundin was a straight line.

Toronto wanted explosive and emotional, the way Clark and Doug Gilmour could be: Sundin was large and calm and consistently great.

Toronto wanted someone to change the franchise.

Sundin, at least outwardly, always seemed satisfied with the status quo.

Time, as usual, brings with it perspective and the view of Sundin as one of the greatest Leafs ever, is the way it should be now, but rarely was during his time playing for the team.

He was never loved unconditionally the way Clark was, never admired the way Gilmour was, or before that Darryl Sittler or Borje Salming.

That was unfair but understandable.

On a list of those who contributed to the franchise, long term, he ranks ahead of Gilmour, ahead of Clark, and in the same sentence with Dave Keon, Sittler and Salming.

It may have taken 13 years, a heated departure, and twisted logic on his unwillingness to accept a trade, and even then some retirement time for all that to sink in.

But finally it has.

THIS AND THAT

A constant disagreement (discussion) I had with Sundin. As captain, I thought he should have used his power to get more involved in management decisions, especially in the pre-salary cap, free-spending years. One summer he really wanted Teemu Selanne to play on his line. But he did little about it. “It’s management’s job,” he would say to me. “No one would listen to me.” I would tell him that as captain they would welcome his input and he has earned the power to utilize it. He never saw it that way ... Another give-and-take with Sundin: Before every year, and after every season, he would say he liked the composition of the team he was on, and thought they had what it took to win. I would tell him he was being blindly optimistic. He seemed too happy with the status quo. Pat Quinn would say the same when he tried to break up Sundin and winger Jonas Hoglund. Quinn would want to do it: Sundin wouldn’t be happy if Quinn attempted it ... Sundin’s career earnings in Toronto: $73,098,546, which either makes him the highest-paid Leaf in history or ranks just slightly above the annual profit of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd ... One more personal Sundin note: Never saw him more elated than the day Sweden won Olympic gold in hockey. I can still see his wide endearing smile from that afternoon in Italy.

HEAR AND THERE

I’m no great fan of outdoor hockey games and don’t buy this “going-back-to-their-roots” thing the NHL sells Winter Classics with (most players today played all their hockey indoors) but I do appreciate the way the NHL and the Red Wings have set up the Hockeytown Winter Festival. This is a fan-friendly, week-long event. Now let’s see if there is fan-friendly pricing to go along with it ... Can someone explain how economically depressed Detroit has amazing athletic facilities — a new football stadium, a new ball park, separate homes for its NBA and NHL teams — and here in the financially blessed centre of the hockey universe and Bay Street, we have an old unfriendly football and baseball stadium, and one place (albeit a good one) for the Leafs and Raptors? ... My Leaf Alumni team for the Comerica Park game has to include: Goalies: Curtis Joseph, Ed Belfour, Mike Palmateer; Defence: Salming, Todd Gill, Dave Ellett, Jim McKenny, Al Iafrate, Bryan McCabe and if he’s able, Brian Glennie. Forwards: Gilmour, Sundin, Clark, Steve Thomas, Darcy Tucker, Gary Roberts, John Anderson, Vince Damphousse, Tie Domi, Rick Vaive, Bill Derlago, Sittler, Lanny McDonald and if they’re up to it, Frank Mahovlich, Ron Ellis, Paul Henderson and Eddie Shack. And the elephant in the room, as always: What do you do with Keon?

SCENE AND HEARD

Why coaches hate being miked during games: Bill Belichick’s late Super Bowl instructions to his defence: “Make them go to (Mario) Manningham.” ... The best running back Tom Brady has had in New England: An aging Corey Dillon. Troy Aikman won Super Bowls with Emmitt Smith. John Elway won two with Terrell Davis. Joe Montana won three with Roger Craig. Terry Bradshaw won four with Franco Harris. Bob Griese won two with Larry Csonka. Times may have changed but if New England wants to cash in further on Brady, they need to surround him with better skill players ... An NBA rule: If you get schooled by the Toronto Raptors, it’s time to blow up your franchise. It’s time, Boston Celtics ... A number Ken Hitchcock must be proud of: Since taking over as coach in St. Louis, the Blues have the fewest losses in the NHL ... Up next post-surgery for Rob Gronkowski: Apparently Dancing With The Stars is interested ... A hockey quandary: If his last name is Hainsey, what’s his nickname? ... When Victor Cruz wasn’t picked in the 2010 NFL Draft, he thought he might hear from a Canadian Football League team. But none contacted him ... One of the reasons HBO hasn’t committed to a Winter Classic 24/7 series for next season is the NHL hasn’t committed to a season.

AND ANOTHER THING

Have to be impressed with the Philadelphia Flyers and coach Peter Laviolette. Losing more than 75 games in injuries to top players like Chris Pronger, James vanRiemsdyk, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux and with just average goaltending and still they have a Top 5

record in hockey ... Don’t know what’s more impressive: Ron Wilson turning the Leafs’ retched penalty killing around or convincing his team to stop taking penalties .... The key date for Peyton Manning is March 8. It’s the day the Indianapolis Colts are expected to walk away from his contract .... The Super Bowl in Indy: Better than Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Houston and Tampa. Not as much fun as Miami, San Diego or New Orleans ... Why does the NHL officially list Joffrey Lupul as a right winger on its website when he’s played left wing all season? In fact, Lupul is the NHL’s leading scorer among left wingers, and if he’s listed incorrectly on the website, will that impact all-star voting at the end of the season? Lupul should have a legitimate shot at a first or second-team all-star left winger if he continues at his current pace ... Happy birthday to Dieter Brock (61), Bill Russell (78), Bobby Smith (54), Joe Garagiola (86), Meghan Agosta (25) and Owen Nolan (40) ... And hey, whatever became of Dale Smedsmo?

 

THE MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI QUESTION

Under normal circumstances, it should be easy for the Leafs to determine they want Mikhail Grabovski to remain with the club and thus will sign the pending free agent to a new contract before July 1.

But there is little normal about Grabovski’s situation — in the wake of salary-cap uncertainty, Leaf payroll responsibilities and an upcoming labour war of sorts. The Leafs would like to pay Grabovski somewhere in the $4.5-million-a- year range, which is well below what he would get in the open market.

But the team is caught in a way: The Leafs can’t, for obvious reasons, pay him more than Phil Kessel’s $5.4 million (cap hit) a year. But they should, by performance standards, pay him more than Tim Connolly’s $4.75 million, considering he’s a far better player. They will likely have to come up around $5 million a year, and that commitment now would be made not knowing what next year’s cap will be.

Truth is: They must sign Grabovski, who wants to remain a Leaf and adores living and playing here. The question becomes: How do you make a deal that makes sense for all parties involved?

TOO EARLY FOR THE ELI HALL OF FAME DEBATE

The inane debate began almost immediately after the Super Bowl: Is Eli Manning (left) a Hall of Fame player?

Many came forward and insisted, that yes he was a certain Hall of Famer.

While the former quarterback Kurt Warner wouldn’t go that way, saying that Manning needed better seasons and not just two Super Bowl wins to make the Hall.

What is strange about all this is the fact the 31-year-old Manning, who has started every game the past seven seasons for the New York Giants, is just over halfway through his NFL career.

There are many years to come. They may be great years. They may be terrible years. We don’t know. If you want to debate whether someone belongs in the Hall of Fame, which is a favourite subject of mine, at least wait until their career is coming to an end.

Then you can do it with perspective and intelligence.

LIN-SANITY

There is so much to love about the Jeremy Lin story it is hard to know where to begin.

These come-from-nowhere tales provide hope — and the belief that anything can be possible if the right opportunity is given.

Lin, the Chinese-born point guard, couldn’t get a scholarship offer of any kind when he came out of a California high school and wanted to play NCAA ball. Then he didn’t get drafted in 2010 when 30 NBA teams passed on the Harvard player. From there, he was signed by Golden State, released by Golden State; Signed by Houston, waived by Houston.

And after some time in the D-League, the Knicks picked him up on waivers to fill a roster spot in late December. And that’s what it was — just a roster spot to fill. For 22 games, Lin sat on the Knicks bench, not even getting on the floor for 13 of those games.

Then a rather desperate coach, Mike D’Antoni, made an odd decision. He chose to start Lin against the Nets last Saturday and a star was born. In four starts, the Knicks have won four games, and Lin has scored 25, 28, 23, and 38 points, along with 32 assists, the largest point total coming against the Lakers Friday night.

Try to explain it — you can’t. Just sit back and enjoy. This is better than Rudy.

 


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