A Mistake Waiting to Happen
Mats Sundin, it would appear, has three choices.
Two make sense. One is a terrible risk.
The risky choice is to succumb to the pull of the hockey world and announce a return to the NHL sometime before Christmas.
This, it appears, is what most believe is going to happen. And that's too bad.
See, the smarter choices for Sundin would be to either retire - which I've come to believe is what he really wants to do - or take the season off entirely and then join a new team next summer.
Jumping into the fray now is a recipe for trouble.
Still, the choices appear to be between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, although since Sundin, as usual, has not articulated his thought process publicly, there could be other teams involved.
But let's say its the Rangers and 'Nucks.
In New York, he would join a team that can't score and would immediately be looking for him to change that problem. He turns 38 in February and his skills are declining, as they do for all players eventually. He has been working out but to what intensity is anyone's guess, and the fact he spent the weekend in New York on a publicity trip for an online poker organization really makes you wonder how furiously he's actually pushing himself to get back to game shape.
If he returns in mid-January, he might have some immediate success, as returning players filled with adrenalin often do, but you can be sure he will have major trouble catching up to the speed of the NHL.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will have to juggle their lineup to fit Sundin under the salary cap unless he's willing to play for a pittance. They only have about $1 million of cap space, and its speculated that veterans like Petr Prucha, Michal Rozsival or even Wade Redden might have to go to make room for Sundin.
That's no way to endear yourself to a new team, particularly if its likely you'll need time to make a significant contribution.
So that's New York. Always tricky, even trickier under these circumstances.
And Vancouver? Ask any veteran who moves late in his career from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference and they will tell you of the painful adjustment required just for travel.
Mike Peca, during his brief stay in Edmonton, couldn't believe how infrequently he slept in his own bed compared to his days in Buffalo and Long Island. Entire days would be lost just travelling, something that doesn't happen in the east.
It sure didn't work well for Mark Messier, who joined the Canucks in 1997 at the age of 36. After scoring 47 and 36 goals in consecutive seasons in the Big Apple, Messier never scored more than 22 in three mostly lousy seasons on the west coast.
It's not that players from the east can't flourish in the west. Scott Niedermayer and Joe Thornton are two good example of athletes who made the adjustment. But it's a huge adjustment that gets harder with age.
But the Canucks, who have the cap space cleared already, keep pushing Sundin to play, as do the Rangers, as does agent J.P. Barry, who believes his client still has good skating miles left in him.
But it's not in Sundin's best interests, it says here, to listen to those voices. Either retire now, or spend a full off-season training and come back strong next fall, full of desire rather than reluctance.
In New York or Vancouver, he'll be looked upon to play saviour this season, and that means deliver a Stanley Cup.
And that's just not likely to happen.