The highest scoring player in Maple Leafs history insists he is just like anyone else.
Mats Sundin met the media, Wednesday, to confirm that a groin injury had ended his season with two games left to play. A sore knee has done the same thing to Nik Antropov, but somehow not many noticed.
Whenever Sundin stops playing, the question carousel on his future sputters to life. Even one of Sundin’s best ever statistical seasons could not block the lengthening shadows of his age and of the Maple Leafs recent futility.
The Leafs have not made the playoffs in three seasons. Everyone is accountable, including the Captain, says the Captain.
And so when he is asked if he wants to return to the Toronto Maple Leafs next season, Sundin offers, in his gentle way, that maybe the question is backwards.
“I think everyone is screaming for changes,” said Sundin.
“My contract runs out this year so all of us will have to wait and see, including myself,” Sundin said.
“I’m no different than any of the other guys on the team.”
Yeah. It’s his fault.
All Mats Sundin did was lead the Leafs in scoring for the 12th time in his 13th year, anchor the special teams and gently guide a fraught dressing room. He scored 32 goals, banked 78 points in 74 games, won an untold number of key faceoffs, slammed home four game-winning goals and finished plus 17.
Paul Maurice gave a thoughtful answer when it was put to him that Sundin was weighing whether he was part of the problem, or at least, wired enough into a solution.”
“There will be enough people, not even necessarily inside our room, but in the general Leafdom who will have the reasons and the answers and the excuses for why we will be not playing on Sunday,” Maurice said.
“There will be some people of responsibility. Then there will be a big chunk of people who will have their reasons but won’t feel responsible. Those ones should go first. Mats would not be in that group.”
No, no he wouldn’t.
Sundin disclosed little about whether he wants to play again next year but did give some hints on whether he would consider playing elsewhere. As an unrestricted free agent he is free to sign with any other club come July but his refusal to waive his no-trade clause and his stance on finishing the season with the Leafs certainly would make one believe that no other NHL destination had crossed his mind. Sundin has consistently swum against the notion of the ‘rental’, the player who arrives to push a contending team over the top.
“No,” popped out of his mouth when he was asked if he could see himself playing anywhere else, although he quickly backfilled the answer.
“Ah no. As I said, I’m just like everyone else on the team. We’re going to have to wait and see what the Toronto Maple Leafs want to do. And I want to sit down and look at my own situation what I want to do.”
Sundin repeated what he has often said. The best part of winning the Olympic gold medal with Sweden in 2006, he said, was the process, not the parade.
If he really is looking for process, the Leafs can offer it in spades. Interim General Manager Cliff Fletcher has pledged a revamped lineup. A new general manager will be selected sometime after the season ends and two young players, Anton Stralman and Jiri Tlusty, have established themselves as potential stars.
Sundin has said he will make his decision after several weeks of contemplation but did not expect to go too late in the summer.
“As I said, last summer, I’m at the stage of my career where I’m 37 years old, I want to approach it year by year. I’m going to sit down once the season is over and analyze my situation.”
Sundin did not anticipate having to take more than a month to rehab his groin injury.
Maurice meanwhile confirmed Antropov’s sore knee had ended his season.
The veteran Leaf scored 26 goals and added 30 assists in what was for him a breakout season.
“For the most part we’re going to let it settle down and then they’ll look at it and see if they have to fix it,” said Maurice. “It won’t be a big deal. He has some swelling and some pain. They’ll have a look at it Monday or Tuesday. It’s not going to be a long-term rehab for him. “
All this comes with delightful news for a team in desperate need of some. The Ottawa Senators have swooned through the standings. They are in sixth place but stand only a slim point ahead of the charging ninth-place Washington Capitals.
The Leafs will return Vesa Toskala to the net against Ottawa, Thursday night.