"I'm just tired of the whole story at this point. I'm tired of Mats, I'm tired of the boo-or-cheer debate, I'm tired of reading increasingly ridiculous arguments on blogs and forums (from both sides). And I'm definitely tired of the lectures from other fans and media about how Leaf Nation should react. Save it, guys. Only Leaf fans get a vote in how they feel about all of this." - Down Goes Brown
So in summary: It's a Toronto Maple Leafs thing, and you wouldn't understand.
We can all attempt to put ourselves in the Leafs fans' shoes today, as Mats Sundin returns to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Vancouver Canucks; theorizing how we'd feel if a 13-year veteran left our respective franchises of choice and then signed a big money deal with another team.
But that's completely oversimplifying the relationship between Leafs fans and Sundin. He either did too much or not enough as a player. They either underrated him or overrated him as fans. His decision not to waive his no-trade clause last year was a feat of loyalty or insubordination. His complete inability to make a decision on his future was either an understandable struggle with retirement or an unconscionable tease. His choosing the Canucks and their massive contract makes him smart to some and a mercenary to others.
So what will Leafs fans do when he hits the ice and touches the puck tonight? We have a smattering of opinions after the jump; but if you're all now half-in-the-bag thanks to the Hockey Day in Canada drinking game, a question for the readership:
Pass or Fail: Mats Sundin should be booed in his return to Toronto.
Toronto Star columnist Damian Cox echoed that thought earlier this week in a piece that asks for Sundin adulation as a sign that the team has moved on:
For Sundin on Saturday, however, the only reasonable response should be two-fold. The man deserves a good, hearty round of applause, with a good number of those in attendance on their feet. He may not have contributed more to the Leaf organization than Doug Gilmour or Wendel Clark, but he surely didn't contribute less and deserves similar treatment. Once the ovation is over, the Leafs should then try to knock his block off. Nothing illegal or cheap, but good, hard hockey that would leave Sundin leaving the ACC thinking it was no fun at all.
That's how to produce a strong impression that the club has turned the page on the Sundin years and is marching towards a better future with pride rather than wasting time trashing former heroes.
Stephen Johns of Torontoist expects booing, but doesn't believe it's warranted:
Seeing Sundin wearing another team's jersey is weird, like seeing an ex with their new significant other. We suspect Sundin will be booed tomorrow night, a response that would be sadly typical of a fan base which seldom gave him his due. It's ironic, since Sundin's accomplishments should be beyond reproach. He left Toronto as the team's all-time leading goalscorer and point-getter; a solid argument could be made for Sundin being the greatest Leaf ever.
Eyebleaf of Sports and The City is another voice asking for civility and appreciation for Sundin:
Don't do it. Don't let an unfortunate ending cloud your judgment. Things end. And they usually end badly. That's why they end. That's life. I ask that you don't forget what Sundin meant to you, to your city, and to your - to our - team. He always played with tremendous passion, desire, motivation, humility, and, above all else, respect. Isn't that all we could have asked for? I believe it's only right that, tonight, we show him that same respect.
Let bygones be bygones. Do the right thing: applaud Mats Sundin. Lord knows he deserves it. For once, ask not what Mats Sundin can do for you - ask what you can do for Mats Sundin.
Goodness. Sounds like everyone's calling for a lovefest tonight. Does anyone think Sundin should be jeered?
He had the chance to depart as a beloved hero banished against his will, but instead, the rigidity of that will left him vulnerable to legitimate charges of villainy and undeniable charges of hypocrisy. He obviously never understood the value of Obi-Wan Kenobi agreeing to be struck down by Darth Vader in Star Wars, never got that you could dig in your spurs to win a battle, yet still be stuck in the mud enough to lose a war.
Ultimately, I expect any initial round of boos Sundin will hear Saturday night quickly will be drowned out by cheers of fans who are well within their right to appreciate the 13 years of loyal, classy service he provided to the team.
But I don't fault any Leafs fan for tossing raspberries and profanity-riddled verbal bon mots Sundin's way. They've got the right to do anything they want to do, just as Sundin, the great libertarian, did less than a year ago. And if they choose to jeer him, they'll be looking out for their own interests first - precisely what Sundin's last lesson taught them.
Cheer him, boo him ... we imagine Mats will have on his best poker face tonight.