Sundin storm will be over soon

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

Rush hour was in full force on the clogged downtown streets when the Vancouver Canucks' bus turned into the driveway of their Toronto hotel at about 5:30 p.m., yesterday.

One by one, the players, bundled up in overcoats and toques, trotted out, greeted by frosty February gusts.

Suddenly, the former Maple Leaf-turned-Canuck emerged.There he was! The prodigal son was back in Toronto.

Welcome back, Kyle Wellwood.

You were expecting Mats Sundin? So were we.

But he was no where to be seen.

He might have been involved in some PokerStars game with Jimmy Hoffa for all we know.

But he wasn't on the bus.

Cut the big Swede some slack. Dining with friends at a west-end restaurant last night, he deserved a quiet evening, the proverbial much-needed calm before the storm.

And there will be a media storm today.

According to a Canucks official, Sundin is scheduled to skate at the Air Canada Centre this morning, followed by a scrum in the hallway outside the Canucks dressing room.

This might be the most highly anticipated morning skate in years.

Given all the hullabaloo recently, the best part about No. 13's return?

It will be over and done with by tomorrow.

After all, this soap opera has dragged on for almost a full year.

It was exactly 362 days ago that Sundin informed the Leafs he would not waive his no-trade clause. Yesterday, he attempted to shed more light on the controversial decision.

"I was put in a position I didn't want to be in," Sundin told AM 640. "For me personally, I felt that we still had a chance to make the playoffs. As captain of the team, (I felt) that jumping the ship wasn't the right thing to do."

The rest is history. The Leafs missed the post-season for third consecutive time, polarizing Leafs Nation into the pro- and anti-Sundin camps.

Those who choose to boo him tonight are of the mindset that he did more harm than good to the team's long-term rebuilding plans by not allowing much needed prospects and draft picks to come to Toronto in exchange for his services.

When he signed as a free agent with the Canucks in December, leaving the Leafs with no return for his services, it fanned the public's discontentment.

"I can understand it. I can understand their point of view," Sundin said. "I understand the passion of the fans."

The opinion here, as it's been since the day he signed with Vancouver, is that Sundin deserves a standing ovation tonight.

It was the Leafs who gave him the no-trade. He was just acting on what was his right.

He is the highest-scoring player in franchise history despite rarely having elite wingers, Gary Roberts and Alex Mogilny being the obvious exceptions when they were healthy.

Imagine how crappy this team would have been for those 13 years without him?

And yet, the Sundin bashers make legitimate points. The cache of resources Sundin would have fetched in a trade certainly would have accelerated the reconstruction job of Cliff Fletcher and Brian Burke.

Even so, there is a sense that Sundin never really was fully appreciated here. Just ask Doug Gilmour.

During his tenure as a columnist with the Toronto Sun, Gilmour, one of the most popular all-time Leafs, addressed that very issue.

In the Jan. 29, 2006 edition of the Sunday Sun, the headline on Gilmour's Captain's Log column blared: "Sundin deserves more respect."

On that day, Gilmour wrote the following:

"For that small chunk of the Maple Leafs' nation that has been wailing for the trading of Mats Sundin the past few days, here's a thought:

"Beware what you wish for.

"I don't think you'll really appreciate everything Mats has brought to this organization until he's gone. Only then will you truly understand what kind of player and person this classy Swede really is."

Gilmour's No. 93 was hoisted into the Air Canada Centre rafters exactly three weeks ago. One day, Sundin's No. 13 will go up, as well.

Will you boo him then?

But that's a debate for another day.

For now, let's hope tonight brings closure to the entire issue.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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