The Trade Deadline and Mats Sundin

 from Nick Parsons

The National Hockey Leagues trading deadline Tuesday is like rolling four important days into one: Christmas day (anticipation, excitement), New Years day (renewal), Thanksgiving (that bum is gone? Thank you, thank you, thank you), and Valentines Day (a new player to love).

One sports channel is definitely in the spirit of the day having scheduled a 10-hour broadcast to cover the event.  Last year there were 25 trades, which would work out to one every 24 minutes.  Do you think Mats Sundins name will come up as time drags on?

Lets deal with this Sundin business first.

Mats Sundin has been with the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1994-95.  He is one of the all-time great Leafs players.  Hes gone to war for them, defended them, and seldom complained. 

This season the manifest mistakes of former general manager John Ferguson Jr. surfaced for all to see.  He made bad signings (Jason Blake), overpaid others (Bryan McCabe), and handed out five no-trade contracts.  Ferguson effectively tied his hands and the club was stuck.  This years team is rubbish and there is no leeway to make improvements.  Except one - fire Ferguson.

Then Cliff Fletcher was hired as interim gm and handed a hatchet.  His job was to unload as many overpaid players as possible and he settled on Sundin as one of the players who had to go.  Fair enough.  Except that Fletchers handling of the media was awful.

Various elements of the Toronto media, talk radio and TSN specifically, began to speculate on Sundins fate.  Sundin tried to damp down the talk but Fletcher made a mistake - he admitted that an interview with Sundin about the players future was imminent.  Torontos sports fraternity exploded.  Sundin was put under massive pressure, hounded from pillar to post.  He was told for the good of the team he should allow himself to be traded.  Fletcher did nothing to help out his player. 

Sundin was painted as the bad guy - selfish old Mats refusing a trade and depriving the Leafs of ten good players and 15 draft picks, or whatever he would fetch. The circus was a disgrace.  By Saturdays game against Atlanta Sundin looked to be in despair.  He was pale and his face ravaged.  He could barely speak in an after-game interview. 

Well, hurray for Mats because Sunday night he announced he was standing behind his no-trade clause.  Fletcher, who was largely responsible for the mess, now looks like a fool.  Im with Sundin on this one - a decent guy should never have had to put up with this nonsense from his employer. Now the Maple Leafs website is chattering on about Sundins honourable decision - how pathetic is that.

As for the trade deadline, Im wondering if there will be all that many deals.  As many as 21 teams could figure themselves still in the hunt.  With only nine teams really out of the post-season there arent a lot of players available. The teams, which in my opinion require nothing more than a little tweak, would include the New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars, and Anaheim Ducks.  Ottawa will have difficulty trading for a new attitude, Montreal is small on defence, Buffalo could use a defenceman too, and Boston wants scoring.  Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers has 16 goals. The Rangers need goals.  Pittsburgh is short one Sidney and could also use a good penalty killer.  Carolina is leading the feeble Southeast Division for now but is in big trouble.  They have poor goaltending, terrible penalty killing, and no Rod BrindAmour. 

In the West Detroit Red Wings, the class of the NHL up until two weeks ago, are struggling because three defencemen are hurt.  When Nik Lidstrom returns they could use second line scoring and some grit.  Calgary Flames have given up 55 power play goals.  If Miikka Kiprusoffs disappointing performance is the reason then theres not much gm Darryl Sutter can do.  Minnesota Wild arent as good defensively as they normally are but instead of another defensive player they might be better off finding someone to play along side Marian Gaborik. 

San Jose is a strange case. All the parts seem to be in place yet they arent winning more.  Part of the problem might be centre Patrick Marleau and his 10 goals.  He isnt good enough defensively to offset that meek effort.  The Vancouver Canucks are looking for a big centre that can score.  That player will give them a second second line.  Nashville Predators probably have no business making the playoffs but as of now theyre in.  They have weak goaltending, which cant be fixed, and little scoring. 

The teams with the least to do on Tuesday will likely remain the teams to beat on Wednesday.  New Jersey in the East and Dallas and Anaheim in the West could be the big dogs in the fight when April rolls around.