Friday, May 12, 2006

Eyes on the enemy

The Toronto Maple Leafs may be out of the playoffs and golfing, but that hasn't stopped them from getting in the news for two very interesting yet completely different reasons.

The first of which has seen them hire Paul Maurice to be their new head coach. This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who's been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Buds, as most saw this coming last summer when Maurice was hired to coach the Leafs' AHL affiliate the Marlies. Pat Quinn was never John Ferguson Jr.'s guy and try as he might to make it work it was a partnership destined to fail from the start.

Is Maurice the right guy for the job? Most pundits seem to think so. Despite having a sub-.500 NHL coaching record and no Cup ring on his finger, Maurice has been made out to the be the second coming of Toe Blake by the media, and not just the Toronto scribes either. Am I missing something?

Maurice did a lot of good things in Carolina, and the job he did to take them to the final in 2002 was masterful, but it's not as if he has a huge tradition of winning. A lot of that was because of the franchise he was in, but the point still stands.

How much of the "Maurice is God" mantra stems from the fact he and the 'Canes were the ones who beat the Leafs in the '02 Eastern Conference finals? Leaf Nation saw first hand what he's capable of, and often times, something like that sticks with you.

Apparently JFJ was Marc Crawford and Andy Murray, and personally, I'd think Crawford would be a better choice than Maurice, but maybe he needs some time away from the game to get his head straight before coming back.

The other news item, and it's more speculation than anything else, is that Mats Sundin is contemplating retirement. He's apparently put his house on the market, and Steve Simmons says it's not just another real estate move.

If Sundin does pack it in, the Leafs will be worse off for it, and that's suprising to say because at about the mid-way point of the season I thought it was something Sundin should've done the previous summer. After coming back from the eye injury, Sundin struggled horribly. He joined the long list of veterans who looked a step slower post-lockout, and you wondered if the game had pasted him by.

However, he turned it around in a big way, and if we're going to point to one man responsible for their late season surge, it would be Sundin. He played a man possessed, and did everything a captain is supposed to, taking the team on his back and leading the way. The troops, seeing the best player do all the little things that it takes to win gladly, followed suit, and sure enough, the Leafs started racking up wins.

It was too little too late of course, but I would've thought Sundin did enough to prove his doubters wrong and erase any doubt he had in his own mind.

Even though he's the captain of the team I've been sworn to hate until the day I die, the quiet truth is I have a lot of respect and admiration for Mats Sundin. I think he's a terrific player who has a lot of heart. I'd take him on my team in a second. Whenever his legitimacy as captain has been questioned by Leaf Nation, I always shook my head because I know how many other franchises would love to have a guy like Sundin wear their C.

While as a Sens fan, it would be wise to hope he does retire, because it'll make the Leafs an inferior team for us to beat up on all over again, my thoughts as a hockey fan overwhelm team allegiances, and the NHL is a better place with Mats Sundin in it.


At 10:07 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Call me crazy, but I don't believe wearing the 'C' obligates one to "strap the team on [one]'s back". Clutch captaincy feels like a media creation to me, reinforced by endless tributes to the halcyon days of of Messier, Yzerman, and yes, Sundin. There are plenty of captains who didn't do this and still won. Do we think of Andreychuk or Stevens as big-time clutch performers and team-carriers? No. They were veterans who led in different ways, probably mostly behind the scenes. In fact, call me even crazier, but I think after years of watching Sundin run roughshod over their team in big games, Ottawa fans--in tandem with the Toronto media, who have a field day with this opinion--have taken to expecting the exact same style of captaincy from Alfredsson. After years of watching Alfie play, there is nothing that makes me think he is the same type of player as Sundin. And you know what? That's fine with me. He may not be kind of guy to win a game single-handedly, and he's certainly not great at quieting the critics, but none of this should detract from the effort he puts in all year in working hard, being a leader to his teammates, helping young players along, and generally being a classy guy, all of which are unanimously true by anyone you can name. He takes the team on his back in a different way, not the kind that you see on a highlight reel. When I see the Canadian sports media publishing article-length features about how Alfredsson is a playoff Houdini, it makes me wonder if all the fans want is for Alfie to become the living manifestation of Mats Sundin in Ottawa. And, to be blunt, I think that is horseshit. Sundin is better in the spotlight than Alfie, no doubt, and he has lots of experience, Toronto being the pressure-cooker that it is. I would still argue that Alfie is the better captain. We don't see 95% of what goes on in the life of a hockey team, and Sundin doesn't strike me as the first-to-the-rink, last-off-the-ice kind of guy Alfie is. Can you picture Sundin taking Coliacovo aside and doing passing drills with him for four hours? I sure can't. And yet, I would bet good money Alfie had more than a token role in the development of of Eaves, Kelly, Spezza, Vermette, and other young players. Do you ever wonder why there have been so many good young players on Ottawa, who seem to disappear off the face of the earth when they get traded elsewhere? And where are the fruits of Sundin's labour, as great a player as he may be? Something to think about. Personally, I think captaincy is about a lot more than scoring the overtime goal.


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