Monday, February 25, 2008

Getting the Sundin end of the stick

I know it's got nothing to do with the Habs, today at least, but I have to say I'm really disgusted with the flack Mats Sundin is getting for refusing to waive his no-trade clause. Leafs fans, and fans of every other team whose players may have a no-trade clause, should understand those contracts were negotiated in good faith. Which, by definition, means the team willingly gave the player the right to veto a trade. And the team had to have understood that there might be every chance the player would use that veto if presented with a trade proposal. Acting as though the player is hurting the team or being unfair by invoking his no-trade clause is dirty pool on the team's part.

It shouldn't even be surprising that players use the clause at this point. It's a given that if a player requests the clause be part of his contract, it means he likes the team and the city and doesn't want to move.

So because the Toronto media has built up the necessity of trading Sundin for the good of the franchise, and has spent the last two weeks constantly speculating on where he might go and for what assets, while operating under the naive assumption that Sundin would waive his NTC out of an unselfish need to sacrifice himself for the team, the innocent Mats is feeling the backlash of angry fans whose delusional vision of the future has now been dashed.

Mats Sundin has done nothing wrong. He negotiated the clause and he's used it as is his right. If the team wanted to use Sundin to underwrite its future in a trade, it should have refused to grant the request for the NTC. That John Ferguson Jr. has boxed the Leafs into a corner by granting a mittful of NTCs to less-than-worthy candidates who are now hanging like anvils around the figurative neck of the franchise is no one's fault but his own. The surprise to me is that a player of Sundin's calibre is so dedicated to his team that he's willing to stay there and take the blame for its demise.

And, maybe this topic does have something to do with the Habs after all. The Canadiens aren't that many points up on where they were last season; deciding whether to buy or sell by the deadline. Those points make the difference between Sundin or Saku Koivu being the most-often mentioned name on the potential trading block, and Habs fans turning on Koivu because he decided to stay in Montreal. His NTC, like Sundin's, is a fact of life and he has every right to use it without flack from the team or the fans. However, the Habs are not the team on the bubble today and Koivu doesn't have to make the choice presented to Sundin. That's not to say he won't be asked to make that choice at some point in the future though. And he deserves respect for whatever decision he does every player with an NTC.

And on a final note, Sam Pollock was one of the greatest general managers in the history of the league. One of his iron-clad rules was a refusal to grant no-trade clauses in player contracts. Ken Dryden asked for one after a year-long contract dispute and was still refused. Pollock wasn't called Trader Sam for nothing. And he was a visionary in many ways...this being yet another. He knew thirty years ago you can't get much in return for a player you've promised not to trade, no matter how much you might want to dump him.

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