J.P. Barry, the agent for Mats Sundin, moves the goalposts one more time: Now it appears Friday is "like a soft deadline" for the free agent to decide on whether or not he's going to bestow his Messianic splendor on the National Hockey League.
Should he decide to play, which team would he sign with? HEY, QUIT BEING SO PUSHY! He's only had close to four months to figure this out ...
Teams like the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings remain on the periphery for Sundin, waiting like the rest of us. GM Cliff Fletcher of the Toronto Maple Leafs said his team "started to operate on the basis that [Sundin] probably won't be back" earlier this month. Please notice he never said the Leafs wouldn't welcome him back.
Then there's the ugly girl at the school dance, the Vancouver Canucks, who continue to have a standing offer of $10 million a season on the table for Sundin that he ignores. It's gotten to the point where the media in Vancouver has been reduced to making marijuana jokes in an effort to recruit him.
And, of course, the captain of the cheerleading squad, the Montreal Canadiens, who offered Sundin a healthy salary and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup in his twilight.
As if getting his name on the Chalice actually matters to him.
For a lot of fans, questioning Mats Sundin's heart is one of hockey mortal sins. But that's on the ice; off the ice, his behavior this summer has created significant questions about his desire not only to be a primetime player on a championship team but to be a player at all.
Mats has already shown he values comfort over competition by refusing to waive his no-movement clause last trade deadline. He didn't want to leave Toronto, didn't want to go to a new team with new faces and help them compete for the Cup. He didn't have it in him then, and his protracted dance with the Habs -- as legit a championship contender as the Eastern Conference will produce next season -- shows that winning isn't a priority now.
Then there's the question of whether Sundin actually wants to return to the NHL. As Mark Spector of the National Post opines:
You have to want to be an NHL player. It doesn't work if you're playing for the money, or any reason other than the pure hunger to win it all.
Right now, Sundin is like a guy who has paid $29.95 for brunch, but has no room left after a single plate. He sits in Sweden, knowing he is healthy enough to still play, knowing that the Vancouver Canucks two-year, US$20-million offer is something he should snap up, knowing there is a buffet table there for the pillaging.
But there is just one problem. Sundin isn't hungry anymore. Judging by the effect a lack of hunger for the game has had on the games of great players like Niedermayer, Selanne and Forsberg, why would a semi-committed Sundin fare any better?
If Sundin decides to return to the NHL ... why? To feed a competitive fire that burns hot enough to prolong his playing career but isn't scorching enough to fuel his desire to win a championship in Montreal?
Will it be for money, like the $20 million he could earn from the Canucks over the next two seasons? Is that enough to bring him out of a comfort zone, even if it keeps him away from the Cup?
Will it be for consolation, opting to continue his legacy in Toronto even if the Leafs are about as close to winning a Stanley Cup as the Raptors are?
Having never been an NHL player, I don't understand how the mind of a veteran star works. Sundin still talks about bringing a championship to Toronto, but he doesn't talk about getting his own name on the Cup. Is that selfless leadership, or did he long ago convince himself that winning it wasn't going to be a part of his NHL legacy?
In other words: Is a ferocious competitor on the ice shying away from the immense pressure of winning a title before times runs out, and the undeniable disappointment that he was unable to bring one home to the fans that adore him?
Only Sundin knows. And we've all become quite acclimated to his leisurely thought process.