Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's playoffs or bust for Sundin


STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin has a keen interest in how well the Leafs will do this season after signing a one-year contract worth $5.5 million (U.S.).

New deal: $5.5 million (all figures U.S.) for one season
Salary cap hit: $5.5 million
Declined team option on 2007-08: $4.3 million
Salary cap hit on option: $6.33 million (average of Sundin's existing contract)
Salary cap saving: $830,000

Sundin's salary through the years
1990-91 $150,000
1991-92 $174,000
1992-93 $189,000
1993-94 $645,000
1994-95 $1.6 million*
1995-96 $1.845 million
1996-97 $1.910 million
1997-98 $1.625 million
1998-99 $6.5 million
1999-00 $7 million
2000-01 $7.5 million
2001-02 $7.5 million
2002-03 $9 million
2003-04 $9 million
2004-05 Lockout
2005-06 $6.84 million
2006-07 $6.84 million
2007-08 $5.5 million

*prorated to 48-game season



Jun 13, 2007 04:30 AM

Mats Sundin won't have to worry about making a decision on his future as a Maple Leaf this time next year if the club misses post-season play for a third straight season.

He'll be headed out the door, and he won't be alone.

General manager John Ferguson almost certainly will be fired, and possibly head coach Paul Maurice, as well. Player-wise, you can bet goalie Andrew Raycroft won't be returning if he can't backstop the club into the playoffs.

Conversely, if the Leafs do qualify, it likely will be because the captain had a strong season, and therefore he'll be less inclined to call it quits or look elsewhere for employment.

Maybe this is what Sundin was talking about yesterday when he mentioned putting more pressure on himself as part of the reason he preferred a one-year deal over a two-year pact.

The Leafs benefited by his decision. He'll play for $5.5 million (all figures U.S.) this season, which gives the team about another $800,000 to spend this summer. That's not a lot, but it would, for example, cover the cost of veteran goalie Curtis Joseph if the club elects to try and turn back the clock with the Keswick Kid next season.

Moreover, given that teams who sign players over the age of 35 are liable for the entire cap hit of that contract regardless of whether the player quits, is injured or gets lost fishing in the Arctic, keeping this a one-year deal protects the team.

Finally, the Leafs haven't over-committed to a 36-year-old player who hasn't exactly soared to new offensive levels in the "new" NHL and all but vanished from the scoreboard when the team was fighting for a playoff berth last season.

And don't hand me that baloney about all the assists he managed while only scoring once in the final 20 games. Assists, as any reasonably smart hockey person knows, are far less valuable than goals. On this Leaf team, Sundin was needed to put the puck in the net.

Go back to that memorable 5-4 loss in Buffalo on March 23. With less than 20 seconds left, Sundin was parked at the lip of the Sabres crease with goalie Ryan Miller desperately moving to his right to get back in position.

Miller somehow made the save, and the Leafs missed the playoffs by a point.

Fact is, while Sundin is a durable, consistent player who likely will earn induction to the hall of fame one day, the Leafs haven't won a thing over the past decade with the talented Swede as their best player. And some of those teams were pretty good.

Some suggest Sundin has put the team on notice by choosing a one-year deal, but it could equally be argued the team will be inclined to turn the page on the Sundin era and spend that chunk of its salary cap on somebody else if next season turns out to be as unsuccessful as this past campaign.

In fact, that'll doubly be the case, for it is hard to believe the Leafs won't be able to lure one of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Scott Gomez, Scott Hartnell or any of the other individuals from this summer's reasonably strong group of free agent forwards.

In other words, Sundin can reasonably expect some experienced help next season, either to play on his line or to add balance to the Leaf attack.

Nobody should anticipate that No. 13 will lead a charge to the Stanley Cup next season.

But if he can't drag the club to the playoffs, it'll be time for everybody to move on.