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When the news broke on Friday afternoon, you could hear the wind come out of the sails out of Leaf fans everywhere. On the other hand, you couldn’t help but feel the excitement and the buzz coming from Canadiens fans.
For the past six weeks, Canadiens fans have been a morose bunch. Call it a summer malaise. Reading the paper you have to search for articles on the Habs. Television has moved on to other sports and even the internet, constantly abuzz with Habs information and gossip day and night not so long ago, has seen its traffic slow to a trickle.
That all changed on a quiet Friday afternoon.
This year’s draft was not met with much enthusiasm by either the media or Canadiens fans in general. Maybe it was the hangover from the playoff disappointment that still soured people, or maybe it was that the Canadiens were picking 25th, but either way there was no mistaking the distinct lack of interest.
Fans of the Canadiens have now grown accustomed to the management style of general manager, Bob Gainey – slow and steady, all in an effort to build a young nucleus. Most fans who have constantly harped for Gainey to make a splash, at the trading deadline, at the entry draft, or in free agency have now learned to lower their expectations. Montreal fans have learned to temper their expectations, as Gainey has instead opted to take a careful, methodical approach to building up the team.
That approach went out the window on Friday afternoon.
When the news leaked that the Canadiens had acquired exclusive negotiating rights with Mats Sundin, you could feel the excitement that had been missing throughout Habs fandom the past six weeks, all of a sudden gather steam.
For years, critics of Gainey’s management style have harped against the conservative approach. Listening to talk radio and scanning internet chat rooms one can find no end to those who feel that they could do the job better than Gainey. Every day one can hear and read, about who Gainey should trade, who Gainey should sign etc…
For those who felt that Gainey needed to be more proactive their dreams were realized yesterday. The acquisition of Alex Tanguay, a proven NHL scorer, for a first round pick was met with widespread approval from many of Gainey’s critics.
But that significant move was overshadowed by the Mats Sundin announcement.
Now the most important task remains for Bob Gainey, getting Mats Sundin to sign his name to a contract.
If he never plays another game Mats Sundin is a sure fire Hall of Famer. One of the greatest of all Toronto Maple Leafs, Sundin has been one of the best NHL players of the last decade and a half.
Mats Sundin is the elite first line center that the Canadiens have long lusted after.
The doubters will point out that Mats Sundin is 37 years old.
However, the evidence points that Sundin still has a lot of gas left in the tank. Last year, playing on one of the most offensively challenged team’s in the league, he still managed to post 78 points in the 76 games he played. When one digs deeper into Mats Sundin the player, one is struck by the consistency that he has shown for the last decade and a half beginning with his days with the Nordiques.
With the exception of the strike shortened 1994-95 season, Sundin has posted point totals of 59, 76, 114, 85, 83, 94, 74, 83, 73, 74, 80, 72, 75, 78, 76, and 78 last year. Clearly, it doesn’t appear that he is slowing down.
Proof of his leadership isn’t limited to his time with the Leafs. Few players are as internationally decorated as Sundin, a three-time World Champion with Sweden and the captain of Sweden’s gold medal winning team in the 2006 Olympics. When playing with the best against the best, Sundin has always shone.
Despite loathing the Maple Leafs all these years, when can’t help but admire Sundin, a consummate team player who unlike many has never put himself above the team, notwithstanding the fact that quite often he has had to play with players that were far below his skill level. His status as a leader in Toronto, is unquestioned, he leads by example by rarely, if at all taking nights off.
Sounds like a former captain of the Montreal Canadiens named Bob Gainey.
In the next ten days, Bob Gainey will spare no expense to lure Mats Sundin into the uniform of the bleu-blanc-et rouge, by offering him the one opportunity that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career.
A chance for the most prestigious trophy of them all - the Stanley Cup.