Monday, August 18, 2008

Sundin, the Media and Me

As you know (if you've been reading this site over the summer), I don't think the Sundin story is the story of the NHL summer – that would be KHL signings. However, it is impossible to deny its importance altogether.

Take the media for example. Every day since July 2nd, we've had an article like this one (When will the Sundin story go away?). Every other day, Mike Boone on the Habs Inside/Out has done his funnier-than-thou take on the story.

The question being asked every time is "When will he decide?", but I think the real question (everyone's doing their best to hide) is: "How did we get so lucky?".

The story doesn't get old because there is legitimate interest and hope from all the key places when it comes to hockey: New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal. The media (I would be wrong to exclude myself from this tag, though I'm decidedly more amateur than most) love this story exactly because it lends itself to jokeyness, mocking and satire. It can be retooled and recycled day after day, and people will still read it because the writers have the knack for expressing some of the angst and frustration the fans are feeling. I think they'll all miss it when it's gone – despite having us believe the opposite. The rumour hack is eating it up too, as it means he doesn't have to do as much work making up false trades and imagining plausible stories to explain their contacts.

While, it is without doubt an important item for the media, I wonder how important it is for the NHL and hockey.

I mean, how many GMs are really on hold? How many players are really left out in the cold until Sundin decides? My feeling on both counts is that there aren't many.

I'll take what I am most familiar with – the Canadiens. They happen to have cobbled a roster together with a $7 million dollar hole in it. But to say they are waiting for Sundin is wrong. Several members of the organisation have made it clear that offers have been made to the (former) Leafs captain, and others have cited how great it could be to have him in the squad; but the Canadiens did not hold up the operation for him. They have signed all their free agents. They have picked up the offensive winger for Koivu. They have grabbed other defencemen.

I acknowledge the "plight" of the unsigned third- and fourth-liners, but if most of us can only dream of an anxious summer before finding out where we can play 10 minutes of hockey every third day for $700,000. I'm not shedding tears for them yet. If they wanted certainty and security, they could do worse than settling for a life in the beautiful Swiss Alps for a few hundred thousand tax-free francs. Again, not an option to people without their hockey skills.

But, really, apart from these unsigned guys, what are the implications for a hockey team?

The main consequence of this summer may be a change in the way things are done in the future. In waiting, Sundin, Sakic, Selanne, Shanahan, the Canadiens, Canucks and Avalanche (to name but a few) have let the air out of the free agent season. They have shown it up for what it is – hype. Maybe teams will also wait in the future – wait for salary demands to settle down, as patience hasn't proven to be too disastrous a strategy.

Sundin and the Habs

Leaving the money for Sundin has been a sensible approach for two reasons:

1. It would be good to have him

2. There are few willing alternatives worth signing that can't wait until September

It is the latter that has been the success story for the Canadiens. Instead of looking to spend for the sake of it to placate restless fans and bloggers (I still want them to spend to cap eventually, as well), they have seen that there is no rush.
Generally speaking, I am not anxious about Sundin. On one hand, I can see the great attributes he could bring to the team. But on the other hand, I still find myself aligning myself with my earlier feeling that getting Sundin is a move too far.

I think the chances of his signing are as good now as they ever were. i don't think time has done anything to hurt our bid or Mats' impression of our commitment. I honestly just think that neither side is in that much of a rush. Anyway, even if doesn't sign for us, we still win as Toronto won't be the constant comeback threats they always were without him.

One final Sundin question that has been kicking around a bit under the radar has been the possibility of a Nordic league to compete with the fledgling KHL and the dismissive NHL.

Obviously, these teams would need some infusion of wealth and some star attractions to get off on the right foot. I wonder if a certain three Nordic millionaire superstars aren't following this story more closely from their summer homes back in Scandinavia than we all are, and whether it might be one more option for them all to consider for prolonging their hockey careers.

And how about all of you? Are you waiting and hoping for Sundin? Did you stop caring long before we did? Are you happy with the Habs as they are (or just resigned to them)?

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