Straight Ahead, No More Stopping
Call it Liberation Day. Liberation, that is, from the contagious nonsense that going backwards can produce forward momentum.
It's been the scourge of Toronto in 2008. First Cliff Fletcher, then Don Matthews, then Cito Gaston, then Paul Beeston.
Matthews was a complete disaster, and one suspects that when it's time for Gaston and Beeston to move out and on again, they won't have made the Blue Jays even a shadow of what they used to be.
Fletcher? Well, we've explained how that was at best a neutral exercise for the Maple Leafs, and at worst a negative sidetrack, with pointless and wasteful trading away of draft picks.
Indeed, on his own the Silver Fox tried to do an everything-old-is-new-again trick, bringing back 41-year-old netminder Curtis Joseph in the same way Punch Imlach, in his second go-round, brought back Carl Brewer.
Joseph, brought in as a favour to friends while Scott Clemmensen was dumped, has been so bad that Ron Wilson didn't even want to talk about him last night. Watching him kneeling on the goal line last night as Phil Kessel snapped a puck over his shoulder was just, well, unfortunate to watch.
Right now, his main value seems to be as that of a brake whenever the team starts to experience more than a game or two of success and threatens to pull too far ahead of Tampa and other eastern doormats.
The final and official departure of Mats Sundin, then, should end all this silliness once and for all, at least as far as the Leafs go. I was still getting emails this week from people wondering if maybe, just maybe the Leafs might yet sign him, or do some sort of sign-and-trade magic.
Well, it's over. Time to move on. Brian Burke did the second he arrived in town.
(Of course, we may not have actually seen the very last of Sundin as a Leaf. No team likes to brings former stalwarts back like the Leafs. Wendel Clark was traded and came back. Ditto for Doug Gilmour, once as a player and once as an executive/minor league coach. Darryl Sitter eventually joined the front office. Rick Vaive worked for Leafs TV. So it would be unwise to totally rule out one more jaunt in blue-and-white for Sundin someday.)
There's no point even discussing Sundin anymore from a Leaf point-of-view. This is now about Luke Schenn and rebuilding and finding ways to get more Schenns, not finding a way to get back to the playoffs as soon as possible.
It was that sort of thinking that got the Leafs into the mess in which they're currently locked.
Still, it's remarkable to hear people accuse Sundin of hypocrisy and disloyalty as he exits. He was as loyal to the Leafs as they ever were to him. This was a team that tried to browbeat him into waiving the very same no-trade provisions it had given him, and yet standing by the terms of his contract was interpreted as treason by some.
And hypocrisy? There are those who say that because Sundin said last season he didn't want to be a rental and join a new team partway through the season means his decision to join the Canucks now is hypocritical.
Not even close. First of all, what one of us out there might have thought one way about their job situation last February, and very differently today? Adults change their minds. Working people change their minds. Millionaire athletes change their minds.
That doesn't make it hypocrisy.
Moreover, given that the Canucks have left open cap room specifically earmarked for Sundin since the summer, you could argue that team has been waiting for him all along, as though he was a shadow teammate.
If he wins a Cup in Vancouver, good for him and good for them. Let's face it, there's a long history of Leaf players going on to great team or individual success after leaving the club, from Gerry Cheevers to Bernie Parent to Randy Carlyle to Doug Jarvis to Craig Muni to Larry Murphy to Dave Andreychuk. If Sundin has the ultimate success with the Canucks, it certainly doesn't alter Leaf history.
It should, however, help make the way of the future abundantly clear to anyone who seriously believed this year's team could make post-season play or that this mess could be fixed quickly by Burke.
The absence of any player who could yet be designated as a successor to Sundin as captain should make it crystal clear to one and all that this team is one step ahead of an expansion outfit.
This is going to take two or three years of pain, pain that could be worth it if good decisions are made and patience is exercised. By the March trade deadline, well-known Leafs (Nik Antropov, Nik Ponikarovsky, pehaps Tomas Kaberle) will be gone, and new prospects and picks will have been acquired.
Given a choice between a 37-year-old Sundin and a new management team headed by Burke, sensible people would have chosen Burke every day and twice on Sunday. But having Sundin linger in his indecision left a scent of hesitation in the air.
No longer. Liberation from old thinking should be gone for good.
Hopefully, most people won't choose to diss Sundin now that's he's definitely gone. He was durable and effective for all of the years he was in Toronto, a pleasure to deal with from a media point of view and a captain who truly cared about his teammates.
He's one of the top five Leaf players of the post-expansion era, and one of the classiest athletes to grace this city in its history. He was a throwback to the days of Apps and Kennedy, a humble, unassuming athlete who never blamed a teammate or sought controversy and notoriety ahead of the pursuit of team goals.
Praise the athletic memory of this man. We were lucky to have him.