December 22, 2008
In our assessment of the winners and losers of the Mats Sundin Derby, we determined that PokerStars.net was a winner because it went from "having a bald, Swedish former NHL player as its VIP ambassador to having a bald, Swedish current NHL player as its VIP ambassador."
A few of the comments questioned that, claiming Sundin would have to give up the sponsorship deal with the gaming site now that he's back with an NHL team. But the Vancouver Canucks center could be in the clear, as Rob Longley of London Free Press reports today:
"We need to understand the nature of the relationship and the entity it's with before we have an official position," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sun Media via e-mail yesterday. "But I don't anticipate that it is inconsistent with any of our policies. Pokerstars does not accept wagers."
In that sense, Pokerstars.net was crafty in its association with Sundin. While a sister site, Pokerstars.com, is one of the most successful cash poker rooms in cyberspace, where players gamble for real, Pokerstars.net offers "free" games. However, a current promotion on the "free" site offers the opportunity to win a trip to the Stanley Cup final.
The league position Daly speaks of is quite clear: No one involved with a team can be linked to an outfit or competition that involves handicapping or predicting the scores of its games. It would appear that Sundin's relationship is safe in that regard, but the NHL has been careful in protecting its integrity as far as gambling is concerned.
It's a rather harmless association, made even more benign by the fact that Sundin hands over all his poker winnings to charity. The threshold for the NHL's integrity police should be the perception that NHL games could, in any way, be fixed for personal profit. That's the obvious difference between a "poker ambassador" and what Rick Tocchet did while an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes; one plays charity hands at celebrity tournaments, and the other helped determine which players were on the ice during critical moments of the game. Hopefully, Daly's right and the NHL allows Sundin's association to stand.
So Sundin's answering questions about his poker playing. But they pale in comparison to the intensity of the grilling he's getting from the media after making his decision.
... You can understand why Leafs fans are angry. Sundin said he was loyal to the organization and he wanted what was best for the team. But the best thing for the Leafs, by far, would have have been trading the big Swede at the deadline because that move could have accelerated the Leafs' rebuilding program by a full year.
True, he was within his rights to stay in Toronto, but that's beside the point. Sundin played in the Big Smoke for 13 years and is intimately familiar with the passions and the frustrations of Leafs fans.
He invested a lot in the franchise, but those fans have invested a lot more, and whatever they're feeling these days is equally justified.
That level of frustration leads to essays like the one Shikha Singh wrote on The Bleacher Report, with the subtle title "Dear Mats Sundin, Thanks For Everything, But I Hope You Suck In Vancouver." From Singh:
You dragged out the drama for far too long and kept false hope alive making me believe you were coming back. Another part of me is just bitter. I mean, how would you feel if Borje Salming just upped and left to play for Finland National Team? But that is neither here nor there.
Sorry Mats, I honestly tried to be happy for you when I read the papers. I really tried to be the bigger person. The fact that you chose the Canucks over the Rangers shows you still have a soul and are a nice person. Maybe when you retire, perhaps we can be friends again. But for now, the pain is a little bit raw and I never said I myself was perfect or a magnanimous person.
On Hockey Night in Canada, Sundin was given a thorough interview by Ron MacLean that covered hypocrisy, nagging injuries, how he fits in Vancouver and some rumors that he was going to retire a Leaf. Solid inquisition, this one:
Finally, there's the growing call for the NHL to step in and do something about veteran players skipping the first few months of the season before signing as free agents. Jack Todd of The Gazette in Montreal breaks it down:
Seriously, it's time the National Hockey League brought in the Sundin Rule, named for Mats Sundin, the Swede who took dithering and indecisiveness to a whole new level throughout this six-month soap opera. Enough with players keeping a half-dozen teams dangling halfway through the season, then turning up in January to earn more money in half a season than Rocket Richard made in his entire career.
On the one hand, it's fair to suggest that having these players commit in the beginning of October rather than the end of December is better for business; you'll sell more season tickets with Mats Sundin in Vancouver on Oct. 1 than you will on Dec. 18.
But we'd love to see the NHL attempt to enforce this. Two words: Peter Forsberg. Every veteran player in Sundin's situation will feign injury, prolonging their free-agent dance as they "rehab" for the first few months of the season. It'll turn what's already a farce into an absolute joke.