Friday, May 30, 2008

If You're Gonna Stay Show Some Mercy Today

Sport was the main occupation of all of us, and continued to be mine for a long time. That is where I had my only lesson in ethics. – Albert Camus.

Perhaps it’s because the sub-text of all sports is about complying with rules and the notions of fair play, ethics and good sportsmanship that fans often develop the expectation that these same values and attributes can and should be found in the professional athletes themselves.

It would be nice to think that the athletes who show leadership, loyalty and courage on the field of play would demonstrate these same attributes off it.

Unfortunately, for me, there’s far too much evidence to the contrary to carry that expectation very far.

This leads me to Mats Sundin.

I think the main reason why there is such divergent views about Sundin’s future is that one-side of the debate is focusing on the explicit rules as found in the CBA, while the other half focuses on those implicit notions, characteristics and values of sport (e.g. doing what’s “right” for the team).

Further complicating matters is money (it’s always money).

Mats Sundin has led the Leafs in every significant statistical category for over a decade and is arguably one of, if not the greatest, player to have skated for the Blue and White. For this, he has been remunerated exceptionally – staggeringly – well.

But does the size of the pay cheque change the principle issue? Should an employee forgo a contractually bargained right and do something against his explicitly expressed desire because it’s in the best interest of his employer and a nebulous group of people called “fans” simply because he’s been well paid?

My answer is no (and clearly others disagree).

But while we’re on the topic of loyalty and what a player “owes” his team and the fans, I’d like to move away from Mats for a minute and propose something entirely new that I’m sure most Leaf fans can agree with.

I think MLSE should ask Jason Blake and Darcy Tucker to retire for the good of the team (and, let’s face it, the best-interest of many fans).

It certainly would be a “loyal” thing for Blake and Tucker to do. It would avoid the ugly spectacle of buy-outs or trips to the minors and the Leafs would be absolved of two hefty long-term cap hits.

Let’s face it, both of these guys have made millions upon millions of dollars for playing a simple kids’ game. Isn't it time Blake and Tucker put the good of the team before their personal best interests and wishes and just hung up their skates?

As long suffering fans, don’t they owe us that much?

9 comments:

  1. the example you've given is perfect. it shows the other side of the coin and proves that sundin owes us, the fans, not a damn thing.

    we can't ask blake and tucker to retire for the same reason we couldn't ask sundin to move or re-sign at a discount.

    the fans only want what's convenient for them. sundin's got to look out for his own.

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  2. In my mind Sundin waiving his no trade clause would have been against the team's best interest. MLSE has to be taught that they can't install a useful idiot into the GM's position and then get bailed out by their players.

    I know Mats disowned the "it's not my job to fix JFJ's mistakes" quote, but I wish he didn't. The managemebt at MLSE is unacceptable.

    And as I watch Detroit dominate I can't help but get angry with envy. The Leafs could have had a stacked front office like this. Why don't they.

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  3. Hebsie9911:31 am

    This example is completely erroneous. You cannot compare asking Blake or Tucker to retire to asking Sundin to waive his no trade clause. The circumstances are not the same and the effect on the player is not the same. Of course Tucker and Blake would say no. Its apples and oranges and does not nothing to further your point.

    Did Sundin have a right to say no to the trade request? Yes. Absolutely. But to describe hockey players as mercenaries who owe nothing to anyone but themselves is also wrong. Hockey players are performers, like any other entertainers. The only way they get to earn a living is because we fans pay money to watch them play. Just as musicians have an obligation to their fans, or movie stars have an obligation to their fans, athletes have some obligations to their fans. They do not owe us much, but they do owe us something. If they were truly missionaries there would be no such thing as a home-team discount, as Sundin himself gave the Leafs when he signed for ‘07-08.

    As someone who has paid money to watch him play, I have a right to be angry when he said no to the trade, and hurt the Leafs chance going forward. We would be a lot better off with a package similar to what Atl got for Hossa, a 1st pick, a former 1st rounder who is still a top prospect and two young serviceable players. I would also think that most other fans that have supported Sundin and the Leafs, would also be angry about that fact. Not absolve Sundin of all responsibility by hiding behind the fact he was simply invoking his rights.

    Let me ask you this, if it wasn’t JFJ or Peddie who gave Sundin his no trade, but someone of Fletcher’s stature, and he said no, would you be more upset? I think the people who assign zero blame to Sundin are angry at Leafs management and are missing the point, that Sundin made a selfish decision that hurt the franchise. It doesn’t matter who gave him the right, incompetents like JFJ or GM stars like Gainey or Holland, he made the decision to say no and cost the franchise a great package in return.

    A similar example is Redden, although he is not close to retirement, I don’t think that really makes much difference. He said no to a trade that would have helped Ott going forward. Ott management is generally well respected I think, and if I am a Sens fan I hate Redden now. I don’t know what his reason was for saying no to the trade request, maybe he had kids in school or a pregnant wife and didn’t want to leave, but his decision to say no hurt Ott going forward and denied the franchise a chance to get some benefit from him leaving.

    Another example I can recall in Toronto is Tracy McGrady. He wouldn’t commit to long term deal with the Raptors coming out of his standard rookie three year deal. He didn’t say he wouldn’t ever sign here and management took a chance and didn’t move him. When it came time for him to choose which franchise he would play for, he didn’t return any of the Raptor’s call and didn’t even come to the city. He snubbed us and signed somewhere else and the Raptors lost a first round pick and premium talent for nothing. Was he within his rights? Yes. Was he a jerk about it and hurt the franchise? Yes. Did fans get angry and boo him when he comes back, YES! Why? Because we had invested our money in watching and cheering for him and felt he owed us something more than the way he treated the city and its fans.

    Part of my anger is the weak excuse given by Sundin. He was not married, no family and no extraneous reason for not wanting to move. He suddenly became adverse to the concept of a rental player. I don’t recall Sundin being particularly upset when the Leaf’s “rented” Owen Nolan, or Brian Leetch. Where was that opinion then? Either it is indicative of his lack of desire to win, (I think most players would take a potential Cup as a rental over finishing out a season with a team going nowhere) or the reality is Sundin couldn’t have been bothered to move when it was inconvenient for him. Either way the Leafs are worse off with his decision and I find that selfish, and hold Sundin responsible for that decision.

    For the record I fully expected him to sign somewhere else next year when he said no to a trade at the deadline. I didn’t think he was coming back and I agree with you he never promised to play only in Toronto if he plays again. I do not understand why it took Sundin to be honest about considering other teams in the offseason for people to start getting mad. Paul S. and others should have been mad at him back in February, when he selfishly screwed us.

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  4. Hebsie99 wrote - This example is completely erroneous. You cannot compare asking Blake or Tucker to retire to asking Sundin to waive his no trade clause...

    It was a joke. You know: ha ha (or in this case not so much ha ha).

    Did Sundin have a right to say no to the trade request? Yes. Absolutely. But to describe hockey players as mercenaries who owe nothing to anyone but themselves is also wrong.

    It’s not wrong it’s simply a perspective that differs from your own.

    Hockey players are performers, like any other entertainers. The only way they get to earn a living is because we fans pay money to watch them play. Just as musicians have an obligation to their fans, or movie stars have an obligation to their fans, athletes have some obligations to their fans. They do not owe us much, but they do owe us something.

    Players, musicians, actors, etc. have no legal obligations to their fans. Their only legal obligation is to sing, skate, dance, act, strip etc. in accordance with the terms and conditions of the contract that they sign. Be it to a record label, movie studio or sports league.

    If you don’t like how an athlete, singer, or actor is performing your only recourse is not to cheer for them, to refuse to pay for their products and services, to organize boycotts or to not offer them contracts to provide you with their goods and services.

    If you think they legally owe you something else, I’d love to know what that is.

    If they were truly missionaries there would be no such thing as a home-team discount, as Sundin himself gave the Leafs when he signed for ‘07-08.

    First off on the notion of hockey players as mercenaries: Why did Ryan Smith not re-sign with Edmonton? Why did Briere and Druy leave Buffalo? For a chance to win and be paid for it, which is pretty much the standard definition of mercenary right there.

    As for the “home-town” discount and Sundin, this was a legal loophole created by the option year of Sundin’s old contract being brought under the rules of new CBA (which forbids option years). The Leafs held an option on Sundin’s contract year and had they exercised it, Sundin would have been paid about $4.5M and the Leafs would have had a cap hit of about $6.3M. It was in both party’s interests to sign a deal that paid Mats about $1M more and shaved that same million of the Leafs cap hit. It was a rare win-win contractual situation.

    As someone who has paid money to watch him play, I have a right to be angry when he said no to the trade, and hurt the Leafs chance going forward.

    Yes, you absolutely have the right to be angry. I never said anything to the contrary.

    Personally, I’m not angry nor am I surprised. But that’s just me and this little blog here.

    We would be a lot better off with a package similar to what Atl got for Hossa, a 1st pick, a former 1st rounder who is still a top prospect and two young serviceable players. I would also think that most other fans that have supported Sundin and the Leafs, would also be angry about that fact. Not absolve Sundin of all responsibility by hiding behind the fact he was simply invoking his rights.

    I can’t speak for other Leaf fans, but I’m not hiding behind anything. I’m simply saying that Mats has legal rights and he exercised them. Moreover, had anyone listened to Sundin and read his official statements, they would (or should) have seen all of this coming.

    You can be disappointed that the Leafs were unable to trade Sundin.

    You can be angry with Mats, JFJ, Jim Gregory and the ghost of Harold Ballard (you name it, it’s your anger).

    You can feel however you want to feel.

    Me, I’m neither surprised nor angry. I saw all this coming a long time ago…

    Let me ask you this, if it wasn’t JFJ or Peddie who gave Sundin his no trade, but someone of Fletcher’s stature, and he said no, would you be more upset?

    No.

    I think the people who assign zero blame to Sundin are angry at Leafs management and are missing the point, that Sundin made a selfish decision that hurt the franchise...

    That’s an interesting perspective. It’s not mine, but I can see how you feel that way.

    That said, I think organizations that want to have the rights and flexibility to trade any and all of their players shouldn’t give out NTC or NMCs. It’s a pretty simple equation.

    A similar example is Redden, although he is not close to retirement, I don’t think that really makes much difference. He said no to a trade that would have helped Ott going forward. Ott management is generally well respected I think, and if I am a Sens fan I hate Redden now…

    You can hate whoever you want.

    I have no problem with Redden negotiating his right to decide where to ply his trade and then invoking those rights.

    Isn't that why rights are negotiated?

    Not being a “team guy” and refusing to be traded may limit Redden’s potential earnings on future contracts, but I doubt it. This is a league that drafted and rewarded Steve Downie and continues to pay Martin Lapointe millions.

    Another example I can recall in Toronto is Tracy McGrady…

    Had Raptors management been smarter they would have attempted to re-sign McGrady and when he refused to re-up they could have given him a window or time limit to re-sign. Once that time limit passed, they could have and should have traded his ass.

    Was McGrady a jerk? Probably (I don’t really follow basketball)

    Was Raptors management culpable for failing to properly assess and address the situation? Sounds like it to me.

    But hey, if it makes you feel better to boo and be angry at McGrady by all means boo and be angry. But if I were a Raptors fan, I’d be more angry that the suits who run the team I cheer for were not strategic, were borderline unprofessional and failed to maximize returns on an asset (but that’s just me).

    Part of my anger is the weak excuse given by Sundin. He was not married, no family and no extraneous reason for not wanting to move. He suddenly became adverse to the concept of a rental player. I don’t recall Sundin being particularly upset when the Leaf’s “rented” Owen Nolan, or Brian Leetch. Where was that opinion then?

    There are many things that I don’t personally believe in or support, yet my friends and family undertake these activities. Should I change my personal belief system because of the activities of those around me?

    Similarly, Sundin doesn’t want to be a rental player – if Nolan or Leetch want to be a rental player that’s up to Nolan and Leetch. It has nothing to do with the personal values and aspirations of Mats Sundin.

    Either it is indicative of his lack of desire to win, (I think most players would take a potential Cup as a rental over finishing out a season with a team going nowhere) or the reality is Sundin couldn’t have been bothered to move when it was inconvenient for him…

    I have no idea what goes on inside Mats Sundin’s brain, but having watched him play hockey for about 14 years, I would never conclude that he has a lack of desire to win.

    For the record I fully expected him to sign somewhere else next year when he said no to a trade at the deadline. I didn’t think he was coming back and I agree with you he never promised to play only in Toronto if he plays again. I do not understand why it took Sundin to be honest about considering other teams in the offseason for people to start getting mad. Paul S. and others should have been mad at him back in February, when he selfishly screwed us.

    Feel free to hold Mats responsible. By all means be angry. Feel however you want to feel about.

    But let me be clear, all I have ever said on this matter is: Mats has a legal right to these decisions; I support his right to exercise his contractual rights; I am not surprised at any of his decisions; any anger I have at this time is directed to the men who run the Toronto Maple Leafs. The men who re-upped Belfour, McCabe and Tucker; dealt away Rask for Raycroft and then traded yet more picks to clean up that mistake; who signed Blake to that egregious contract; and most importantly negotiated away the rights to trade, and in some cases even demote, nearly 25% of the Leafs roster.

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  5. Paul Steckley4:25 pm

    Hebsie99, I'm trying to understand your logic here, and I must admit I'm not succeeding.

    To start, let's be honest and just admit that everyone is selfish, and virtually every decision we ever make is selfish. We always decide on a course of action that we feel is best for ourselves, and follow it. That is simply a basic human trait. A minute number of decisions in human history have ever been completely unselfish, where someone was made a decision that is completely against their own interests that has no benefit to them whatsoever.

    Had Sundin decided to accept the trade, it would have been a selfish decision too. He would have been making the decision not to benefit the Leafs, but to follow Ray Bourque's example and turn his back on his long-time fans in order to chase his own personal goal of winning a Cup. The result may have helped the Leafs, but that is not why Sundin would have chosen the trade.

    Sundin had no duty, whether it be legal, moral, or ethical, to agree to a trade at the deadline. He decided on a course of action that served his needs at the time. So be it. That makes him human.

    I wasn't mad at Sundin in February, and I won't be mad at him now if he signs elsewhere (Montreal being the only exception). He had the right to make any decision he wanted and chose the one he felt was best for him. I would have liked to see him choose the trade and then resign in the off-season, but I harbour no ill-will towards him for deciding not to do that. It was his decision and you simply need to get over it.

    Sundin has been many things for this franchise since he came here. It seems to me that by being angered by his decision, you feel somehow that he is responsible for the mess the Leafs are in. He's not, nor was he responsible for fixing the mess. That is the GM's job and as great a player as Sundin has been for the Leafs, he was never the GM. Your blame is better served on JFJ, Quinn, Mike Smith, Ken Dryden, and Fletcher himself, all of whom have consistently failed to build a franchise on the Detroit model, where old stars retire but are replaced quickly by promising rookies. Until the Leafs stop looking for quick fixes and commit themselves to long-term development and evolution, this team will never be better than they are now.

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  6. hebsie9910:50 am

    Paul,

    I disagree with two keys points. First, not everyone is selfish. And not every decision is based on selfish motives. Maybe it is wrong to call what Sundin did as selfish; I certainly agree he had no legal obligation to accept trade. I guess maybe a better word is stupid. He made the decision for stupid reasons.

    How much better is it to win a Stanley cup with a new team starting in February rather than October? Does 9 months with a team make that much difference than 5 months? (Oct-June vs February-June). If Sundin signs with someone else and gets hurt for the first four months, is he going to decline to play the rest of the season because he won’t feel part of the team enough to make winning the Cup worth it? . Find me another person who says no to a potential Stanley Cup because the team played together four months before they got there. Ludicrous.

    I can certainly see how Hossa is ostracized from the team and is not enjoying his Stanley Cup run. I am sure it was the worst decision he ever made

    The players all know everyone else these days anyways, and half the guys in the league have played on Sundin’s wing and one point or another so he would have no reason to think a cup with a team for half the season would be in anyway cheapened or tainted.

    Not to mention all the other movement, call ups, trade etc that would make it unlikely that the rest of the team all played together anyway.

    In fact show me any team that played the whole season and won a championship without making any player moves. Does that mean all players acquired during the season for a champion team have their titles tainted because they were not there from day one? I think a lot of people would take offence to that notion but that in essence is what Sundin is saying.

    (see http://downgoesbrown.blogspot.com/2008/02/mats-sundin-is-right-and-youre-wrong.html)

    I think his rational was so stupid I assumed it was selfish behaviour, but maybe he really is just that stupid. Selfish or not, I am pissed. And you should be too.

    Can you agree that a package for Sundin similar to what Hossa earned would have helped the Leafs “long-term development and evolution”? If that is your goal, to see the Leafs get on the right track, all the more reason to be mad at Sundin for hindering the Leafs in their efforts to do so, based on stupid logic. Be mad an management too, but Sudnin deserves some antipathy.

    If he had a family and didn’t want to upset them or some better reason, I don’t think I am angry at him at all. It really is his motives that I am angry at, not the decision itself.

    Futhermore, in no way do I think Sundin caused the Leaf’s woes. I thought since the Rask trade that JFJ was an astoundingly bad GM, and the extent of his incompetence has yet to come to light. Just wait and see how bad the Leafs are next year and you will see how bad JFJ/ Meddlin’ Peddie really made the Leafs.

    I am just as angry at MLSE management as the next fan, but I do not think Sundin gets off blame-free for his stupidity. I think you and MF37 are both so angry at Leaf’s management that you are overlooking Sundin’s stupidity because they facilitated him being stupid. Even if it was a bad decision to give Sundin a no-trade clause, I don’t think anyone would have expected him to evoke it based on a dislike of “rentalism”. (anti-rentite?).

    Bottom line is Sundin screwed every Leaf fan out there by saying no, and for stupid reasons. Yes it was his right, and yes Leafs management deserves mounds of blame for how bad the team is, but Sundin shouldn’t get off scott-free. Good riddance.

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  7. Paul Steckley6:13 pm

    Hebsie99,

    I think you're wrong about how prevalent selfish motives are in human decisions, but we can save that discussion for another forum.

    I don't agree that Sundin's decision was stupid, simply because there are no guarantees in life. Sundin could have been traded to a contender but there is no guarantee that he would win a Cup with them. Richards didn't help Dallas reach the finals. Campbell didn't help San Jose.

    Therefore, given the uncertainty involved, I think it is reasonable for any player to take the position that they would prefer not to disrupt their lives and live in a hotel for 4 months, which is essentially what would have happened with Sundin had he accepted the trade. I would have a problem with that kind of transitory lifestyle myself, even if it was temporary.

    You're right that I am angry with Leafs management and I feel that I am entitled because they have not done what they are expected to do, which is build the organization into a perennial contender.

    I would be mad at Sundin if he didn't do his job, which is to score, or set up, goals, but he does his job nicely. Far better than anyone else we're likely to see in the blue and white for some time. Until someone at MSLE hires Sundin as the GM, I won't hold him responsible for the organizational mess the team is in.

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  8. Hebsie9912:47 pm

    I feel the need to further address one of the points that MF37 made, that forms part of the foundation of the argument that Sundin was justified; that hockey players are mercenaries. You said that argument is not wrong, just your perspective. True, but some perspectives are subjective, and others objective. I could perceive the world is flat and created in seven days. My perception would be wrong.

    It is wrong and incorrect to portray hockey players as pure mercenaries. I think most players, including Sundin, would take offence at that portrayal. Athletes invest their heart and soul trying to win, for themselves, for their team-mates, for the organization and for the fans. Few people are so selfish that they only try for themselves.

    Sundin himself recently said his ideal situation would be to retire as a Leaf. Would a pure mercenary care where he or she retired? Where he finished his career? Can you imagine any player playing for 14 years in one city and for one team, would be able to leave that situation without giving even an ounce of thought to how it would affect the fans and teammates?

    I think any human would feel some attachment to a place they gave their blodd and sweat for 14 years and take that loyalty into consideration when deciding where to play when. I am angry at Sundin for saying no to the no-trade clause, I think it was selfish and stupid, but I do not think he did not consider some sense of loyalty and desire to stay in Toronto in his decision. I do not think he is that callous in his thought process. And I don’t think any hockey player who is human would.

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  9. hebsie9912:49 pm

    What are you talking about Paul? Sundin never said he didn’t want to live in a hotel for four months. That was not the reason given and you are making things up for him now. The only reason he gave was because he did not believe in the rental concept. A reason I find absurd. You are trying to rationalize why it was okay for Sundin to say no so you do not have to face your anger towards him and only be angry at management.

    Answer this question: what is the difference between 9 months with a team and 5 months with a team? Do you really find there is a significant enough difference to warrant denying the franchise the benefits of him accepting the trade? Do you accept the actual reason he gave, without making up possible reasons he didn’t give (never mind that your prescribed reason of not wanting to live in hotel itself would be ridiculous – what hockey player worth his salt would not live in a hotel for four months if it meant he could win the Stanley Cup)?

    Forget the Leafs mismanagement for a minute. Pretend that the Leafs were managed well and just in the normal cycle of a team and are aging and ready to rebuild with some youth. Management drafted reasonably well and gave out reasonable contracts where warranted, and Sundin having played 14 years with the team earned the no-trade clause that one would reasonable expect he would invoke to have some say over which team and under which conditions he would accept a trade. Instead he says no because he believes that five months with a team is not enough time to be part of a team and make a championship seem worthy in his mind, and he will only consider a Cup worthy if he starts with a team from training camp. You angry now?

    Sure give him some credit for his years of service, but at the same time he owes some consideration to the fans who have supported him throughout his years of service. You think Sundin was completely reasonable in his assessment and deserves zero scorn for making this decision?

    You said in an earlier post that you had wished Sundin said yes to a trade but harbour no-ill will towards him. I do not see how this statement makes sense based on the grounds for saying no Sundin gave. Do not let your love for the player blind you. Do not let your extreme anger and frustration at Leafs management over giving no trade clauses to McCabe and Tucker distract you. You should not have to search for potentially reasonable reasons why Sundin might have said no, and instead focus on the ACUTAL reason why he said no. This is a classic rationalisation on your part.

    I say again, yes Leafs management have royally screwed up the situation, yes Sundin was perfectly within his legally contracted rights to say no to a trade, neither of these factors should absolve Sundin from ill-will for making a decision based on stupid and weak reasons, that had the effect of costing significant assets towards the “long-term development and evolution” you say you want the franchise to pursue. It shouldn’t take Sundin signing with Montreal or Ottawa to get Leafs fans upset. The time to harbour ill-will started in February.

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