Monday, June 23, 2008

Sundin: A Move Too Far?

Lots and lots of hype around Mats Sundin at the moment. But, as time goes by, I find more and more reasons to hope Sundin will not end up with the Canadiens.

Let's be clear from the get go, Mats Sundin is a great player. He would still be a great player on the Canadiens. My qualms are not with Sundin, but how he would affect the Canadiens.

Chemistry

To start with, the Canadiens, for the first time in many years, seemed to come together as a team in the way they won games and the way they cored goals when they needed too – at least during the regular season. I believe that this was due to a critical mix of leadership from players who want to lead (Kovalev and Koivu) and youth who began to thrive with new responsibilities.

Adding Sundin would add two things: a) a first-line player and b) a very strong voice in the dressing room (I am assuming of course that Sundin isn't coming here to be a shrinking violet on the third line like Radek Bonk).

This will have direct repercussions. We can all count and know that there are only 6 available places on the top two lines, so the addition of Sundin after that of Tanguay, would mean that only 4 of the top 6 forwards from the number one offence from last season. As he will be deployed as a centre, Plekanec, or in all likelihood Koivu, will have to be demoted to the "third" line. In itself, this would not be so bad, as Koivu would likely keep his wingers from part of last year on the first line, but his ice time would have to suffer.

Then there is the issue of leadership. Was it only me, or did anyone else notice that Alex Kovalev really came into his own as a player once he started leading. He probably had the best year of his career in terms of his out and out value to his team. Stripping some of his voice (it will be a slow and insidious process, as Sundin wrestles his share loss by loss), would be a detriment to the team in my eyes. Koivu (everyone seems to forget he proved himself as a number one centre yet again in April) could be in the same boat. In any case, you can't add a 37-year-old superstar with a large personality without shifting the dynamic a bit. Too many cooks and all that...

Salary

Anyone who has been taking a practical look at the Canadiens situation has noted that adding Sundin will take money and cap space. In fact, many have questioned how it would be plausible at all. After all, Sundin will not be moving to his sworn enemy of 13 years for a discount, will he? Again, we have a situation where Sundin is added and the ground must be shifted. Someone will have to be moved. I suspect it will have to be someone with a decent salary: $4 million+.

Progress

The last season, we as fans were sold the promise that our youngsters were playing because they would gain hugely from the experience. They were deployed on the top lines, they were given responsibility, they grew. Add Tanguay and possibly Sundin – and what gives? Steps back is what. Take Latendresse. He won't see any first line time anymore, that is unless Sundin were to exhaust his choice of wingers as he often did in Toronto. Where does Sergei Kostitsyn then fit? Chris Higgins? These are players that will be around long after Sundin is gone. Aren't they important enough to nurture anymore? I believe that lots of the progress that has been made over the year could be set back so we can give the aged Swede the ice time he will demand.


Add it all up, and adding Sundin will take away ice time and leadership from a top player from the roster, and will probably necessitate salary shedding and indeed cost us a roster player. I don't think losing Grabovski, as some have speculated, would be sufficient. No, I think someone more significant will have to be marginalised and even jettisoned for us to make room for his time on the puck, his big personality and his sure to be massive salary.


The writing looks like it's on the wall. Add Sundin, and my bet is that Koivu's bid to become the longest serving captain in team history will be ended. How could it not? Would we lose Plekanec? A player with intelligence, skill and speed reminiscent of the younger Koivu (his salary wouldn't be enough anyway). I for one would hate to lose Saku Koivu to gain Mats Sundin, no matter the height difference.

Koivu is ours. He is our leader. He loves Montreal. He loves the Canadiens. Sundin may get there, but you can't gain 15 years worth of passion in a single season. Never mind that he would have to learn to stop hating the Canadiens first.


So, I'm going to be happy with our other addition: Tanguay. We find him the right fit at centre and a shooting RW and we'll be off. He may not be the top top superstar we had dreams of, but he is a very high quality addition and the team is already better off as a result. Sundin, in my mind, remains a move too far.

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