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Sundin: "I Couldn't Have Taken Joining The Canadiens Lightly!"


Robert L Note: Yes, I know I'll likely get ripped a new one a bunch of times for writing this crystal ball piece, but I'll risk the slings and arrows. I still think it is a possibility something similar to this occurs and I recognize that there is likely an even better chance at this stage that Sundin simply retires. Bottom line is, doing something like this is just plain speculative fun. I thought indulging myself into what thousands of fans have imagined this summer would be quite freaky. Writing about the lack of news on this front has just become as boring as watching corn pop. While this post will bring smiles to some faces, it undoubtfully will redden some asses as well. For those, before you settle in to send me off a venom spitting commentary here, be forewarned that I likely won't even read through it, let alone publish your words. The spirit of this, again, is just plain fun.

With this afternoon's announcement that former Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin had signed a one year deal to play for the Montreal Canadiens, came a flurry of activity by hundreds of media types being caught off guard. Their stories of hacks being called off holiday time and golf courses to cover the event are as unique as the unfolding of this drawn out affair.

But let's digress, this is big time news!

In today's rushed press conference, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and his new star centerman revealed the whole deal was much simpler than all the speculation had made it out to be. Well, almost!

"Mats and I laid out some ground rules for each other beginning with our initial conversations back in late June", Gainey admitted with a confident grin on his lips.

"We spoke of a mutual interest, which has resulted in why we are here today. Mats made it perfectly clear that playing in Montreal was an extremely exciting proposition, but at the same time, he understood the enormity of the task. He honestly admitted to me that, he couldn't even begin to consider Montreal as a destiny, if his heart, his mind, and his body weren't 100% committed to what would lie ahead should he decide to continue his career with us. He made it very clear that he didn't feel his answers were right around the corner. We chose to wait him out."


Sundin, who began the conference on a nervous note - saying a simple "Hello" in his chair, before jutting forward to add a sheepish "Bonne journée!" - expanded greatly on his summer of reflection, and why it seemed he had a difficult decision on his hands.

"It is all about the commitment. The committment of the body and soul, knowing what this means. There is no way I could have taken joining the Canadiens lightly. It was important to me that when I made the decision to continue playing, that it would be the right one, and that I could say for certain that I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally up to it."

When asked directly whether the enornous interest by teams for his services made these questions more daunting, Sundin acknowledged it like this:

"Of course it did. The offers were flattering in ways. When Bob called, showing the Canadiens interest, it really set me back. I understood that I couldn't come to Montreal with fears I was no longer good enough. I needed to get to this point in the summer felt I felt physically confident enough to take this on."

Sundin also spoke of how for him, the summer questions had little to do with which team suited him. It had more to do with how he suited the teams interested in him. For that, the Canadiens were his starting point.

"Cliff Fletcher, I guess, traded me to Montreal, because he knew what the city held for me. We didn't have a big in depth conversation. Cliff just knew that this was likely the best place he could get a return for me."

As Gainey tells it, and Sundin made clear, Montreal was on the player's radar daily for the last 50 days.

"I didn't simply phone him occasionally to ask him about the whether in Sweden", Gainey mused, while owning up to less than a half dozen cross Atlantic querries. "We didn't discuss a potential ABBA reunion!"

"Mats phoned as often, or as little, relatively speaking. Primarility out of a mutual respect, just touching base", said the GM. "In telling me exactly how he felt about one day being a member of what we are building here, I accepted his sincerity about his doubts. I began to have a very good feeling about today happening when I learned of another team's substancial offer. I was preparing to phone Mats, when he phone me the following morning. Quite early in it, actually!"

Gainey went on to specify that the short chats kept him confident, despite no change in Sundin's demeanor until recently.

"When Bob first reached me, a matter of hours after gaining permission from Toronto in June, we had a very basic discussion where I made it clear that my emotions and state where in a flux. I won't detail it. I don't want to spend any time being asked about it. I'll just say I have sorted through, professionally and personally, every conflicting emotion you can think of, when you're pressed for a choice. Not that I was being pressed per se, but you get the idea."

"I've always been a person who knows what he wants. To be at a place where I didn't really know, required some examination. Bob shared with me his experiences with that, how he had doubts in 1988, but none a year later, and I spoke with several other former team mates who went through a similar crossroads, and it didn't help, really. Every situation is different, and I've only ever had this. Bob allowed me all the personal space and time needed. It's part of why it feels confortable to be here."


Both Sundin and Gainey made apologies for the panic that ensued once the Canadiens called the press conference shortly after lunch hour.

"It's all my fault", smiled Sundin, "I gave him almost no warning I was coming!"

Gainey laughed an uncharacteristic burst at this.

"We spoke four days ago. Mats then calls me around the time we were all finishing our soup, to tell what time his plane is landing in Montreal. All of you who think I'm a calm guy...."

With the room in laughter, a shouted question from the midst of the still scrambling group of scribes, elicited a raised palm from Gainey that seemed to say "We'll get to that!"

Sundin elaborated, "What happened was, I made up my mind. I was vacationing when I decided, and understood I couldn't fly in directly from Sweden. So I chose to simply to fly from where we were. I called J.P., I tried to plan around some itineraries once I landed."

Gainey interjected, "There was some quick paperwork to be done. No one who owns a Blackberry is ever on holidays. That being said, few people knew Mats was on his way. Myself, Mats, two others, that's all. That's the reason Mats has no jersey with a number 13 on it to display."

The Canadiens GM the explained how the past two hours of his day unfolded.

"My driver brought me here, not knowing the reasons why. Mats was actually sequestered in a police questioning room for 45 minutes, a question of keeping things quiet while I sat in traffic."

Once Sundin was with Gainey in a limo headed to the Bell Centre, the GM began making several calls that lead to the scurrying masses gathered here today.

"I haven't really relaxed since descending the plane", Sundin offered. "Fortunately, I went pretty much unrecognized until we got out of the car here. Some horns were honking!"


When questioned on the contract and the negotiation of it, both parties admitted to there being little to discuss.

"Mats made an offer. We accepted it. It's a one year contract - maybe longer, we hope. Mats and I spoke of a three year engagement, that we will address one season at a time."

"Apart from being paid what I feel as though I have earned over my career, the money was not a factor whatsoever it this. Money wasn't in my head all summer. There was a nice offer at one time, that didn't change at all how I was feeling. That told me something. Knowing now, how badly I can't wait to start playing, it's all about winning for me now."

Gainey derived from letting the NHL announce the contract details and broke the much balleyhoo'd club policy dictum, adding, "It's a one year, 5.9 million, with bonuses attached. Two year deals have no bonuses to them, as per the CBA. Mats brought the figure and term. He wants the added motivation."

"All I want is to win a Stanley Cup. This city knows all about that. This organization is on track. I want one too!"


With that came the inevitable questions regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs, and everyone present could see Sundin suck in a deep breathe, pause and reflect before confronting what was the first loaded question.

So how do you think they like you today in Toronto, Mats?

"You know, that's a hard one. I'm not comfortable answering about the Maple Leafs sitting here in Montreal, but I know I will have to."

"Let me put it to you this way. I love that city. It's home. I won't be living there for now, but it's still home. People's feelings there matter to me very much. The fans love hockey. They treated me very good. You won't hear a bad word. Everyone, I presume, understands why I am sitting here now. It was very, very hard for me to leave there without having won a Stanley Cup in Toronto. It was hard all summer, like, I guess a divorce with someone you still love, feels like. I felt at times like I was abandonning them."

"I spoke with Cliff, before I called Bob, and Cliff said I shouldn't feel that way at all. He convinced me really, and I feel like it kind of liberated me some. I did me good. Cliff is a great man. He wanted me back as well as I wished I could still be there, but..."

When asked if there was anything he wanted to say to the fans of Toronto, Sundin added that there was.

"I'll be in Toronto shortly, for some loose ends. I'll address all that, there and then. I love that city, the fans, the team, all of it. I'm sorry we didn't win a Cup. It'll be tough for them to see me in a Canadiens jersey, I know, but they're good fans, and they'll get over whatever they need to in this, just like I did."

Gainey stepped in, adding, "If you speak to players like Doug Gilmour, or Frank Mahovlich, or Ken Dryden who was there, they will all tell you that the passion both cities have for the game, resembles each other in a great many ways."

"I've played many games in Montreal over my career", Sundin offered, "First with the Nordiques, and more with Toronto. I know exactly what this city is all about. That's comforting, the atmosphere. It should make my transition a very simple one."


With that, Gainey ended the gathering, promising that Sundin will be made available for the media in about a week's time. He made quick allusion to a jersey being present then, and apologized once more for yanking everyone off the 11th tee.

Just as Sundin was set to turn and follow Gainey off, scribes here witnessed a scene quite rare when a pair of journalists from the french press side walked up to shake the hand of the Canadiens newest acquisition. Before everyone could grasp what was going on, Sundin shook the hand of practically everyone in the room.

The "Welcome to Montreal's" and the "It's great to be here's" were aplently. Mats even signed a few scraps of paper, before Gainey slid over, placing a gentle hand on his player's shoulder, that spoke a silent "It's time to go now, Mats!"

Here's hoping he's enjoys the ride!