Its Up to Mats
Over the course of his NHL career, Mats Sundin has earned somewhere in excess of $68 million, a tidy fortune.
All but about $1 million of that has been paid by the Leafs. Now, a day after Sundin once again re-iterated that his goal is to win a Stanley Cup in Toronto, he has his chance to put his money where his mouth is.
First, note the difference from last year to this year. Last year, Sundin couldn't get out of town fast enough and left a lot of fans hanging as to his intentions and whether he wanted to remain a Leaf.
This year, he's said it all already. Wants to stay, happy as a Leaf.
The difference? Well, he's already got a deal in place, one that may be announced before the end of this week.
The exchange is straightforward. Sundin gives up the $5.3 million option on his deal for next year, one that carries a $6.3 million salary hit, and in return gets more money - something in the neighborhood of $5.8 million, probably - and gives the club a bit of a break on the cap.
If it is $5.8 million for each of two years, it's a $500,000 cap break per season.
But if Sundin is really serious about helping the team win the Cup, he could take a much bigger pay cut, and in so doing help the Leafs sign more quality players this summer.
In theory, he could agree to a deal paying him $1 million a year, thus freeing up more than $4 million for the club to spend on another player. A pretty good player.
He could take $2 million and free up more than $3 million for somebody else.
Or he can free up a piddly $500,000 that buys you nothing.
A large pay cut would be spectacular goodwill on Sundin's part, but not totally without precedent.
For example, last year Martin Brodeur signed a six-year deal with the Devils that pays him $5.2 million per season. Given his history, and given that Nikolai Khabibulin made $6.75 million this season, it's a nice deal for Jersey that gives them a bit of room to maneuver under the cap, about $1.5-2 million worth depending on how you assess Brodeur's market value.
In 2003, meanwhile, Paul Kariya absorbed the single largest pay cut in the NHL history when he agreed to a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Colorado after making $10 million the previous season with Anaheim. Kariya wanted to play with Teemu Selanne in Denver and there were only so many dollars available in the pre-cap era, and so he helped the Avalanche make it happen.
On Monday, Joe Sakic agreed to a one-year, $6.75 million deal with Colorado, which represents a $1.25 decrease in the cap hit he represents for next year (this year he made a salary of $5.75 million plus $2.25 million from an old deal for a total of $8 million).
So now the ball's in Sundin's corner.
How much does he want to help the Leafs, and how much does he want to pad his own already velvety nest?
If he really wants to win a Cup, the proof will be in the dollar figure on his new contract.
NOTE: A couple of readers have written to say that other players, like Bryan McCabe, should be the ones to take a pay cut or restructure their contract. Under the terms of the current CBA, that's not possible. McCabe, for example, can't re-do his deal to give the team more salary cap room, and neither can any other player with an existing contract. Sundin, on the other hand, is in that position if the team rips up the option year of his old contract.