Op-Ed: Questioning Mats Sundin's Leadership Is Pointless

Posted Sep 16, 2008 by Nawest Vazquez
The cause celebre of the media and bloggers these days is to question the leadership of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. Funny, I thought we had buried this topic years ago.
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin
Mats Sundin has decided to join the Vancouver Canucks.
by Aaron Webb
I guess not. New Leafs head coach Ron Wilson didn't mention Sundin by name, but it was clear he had Mats in mind, among others, when he said the Leafs have lacked leadership the last three years.
Bloggers like Down Goes Brown (quelle surprise!) and TorontoSportsMedia's Weblog have picked up on the issue of Sundin's apparent lack of leadership.
Of course, Sundin's tenure in Toronto is now only defined by the last three horrible years, and everything else has been thrown out the window. That's how it works here in Toronto. When things were going well and the team was making the playoffs, Sundin's leadership was never in question. He proved his worth and he always had the unequivocal support of his teammates.
But, post-lockout, the Leafs have been a mess. And it's Mats' fault. Because he ain't no leader.
Oh, so that's why the Leafs have missed the playoffs the last three years. It was Mats. He was just enjoying himself and letting the dressing room become a "country club." It had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, post-lockout, have been one of the worst defensive teams in the league, at or near the bottom in goals against average, save percentage, and penalty killing. Gotcha.
Let's take a look at some sobering statistics from the last three years, starting with last season and moving backwards, with the teams NHL ranking in parenthesis. All stats are courtesy of ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports.
GAA: 3.12 (27th)
Save %age: 89.3 (29th)
PK %age: 78.2 (29th)
GAA: 3.20 (25th)
Save %age: 88.8 (27th)
PK %age: 78.5 (27th)
GAA: 3.21 (20th)
Save %age: 89.5 (18th)
PK %age: 80% (23rd)
Those numbers should keep you up at night. I'm a huge Vesa Toskala fan, but it's pretty messed up to see a higher save percentage in 05/06 when Ed Belfour, Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin split the goaltending duties. In retrospect, Raycrap's 87.6 save percentage is largely to blame. Seriously, Colorado, good luck with that crap.
I'll be the first to admit that Toskala's 90.4 save percentage last season was good, but by no means great. He's got to be better. But so does the team in front of him. On way too many nights, he had no help, and was left out to dry. But that was Sundin's fault, of course.
Looking at those numbers from the last three years, it's clear that the Leafs' struggles began and ended in the dressing room, and because Sundin wore the "C" on his shoulder, the onus falls on him. The team's struggles had nothing to do with the fact that the Leafs, under Paul Maurice, couldn't keep the puck out of their net, had no idea how to kill a God damn penalty, and received AHL-calibre goaltending from their starting goalies in 05/06 and 06/07, and beer league calibre goaltending from their backup in 07/08.
It wasn't enough that Mats was producing at better than a point-per-game rate post lockout - 78 points in 70 games in 05/06, 76 points in 75 games in 06/07, and 78 points in 74 games last season. I guess he should have been out there killing every penalty, and should have been on the ice for the entire third period, when the Leafs loved to blow their leads. You know that +17 rating he sported last year? Yeah, that one. Screw it. Just toss it out the window. Or ignore it. You pick.
I guess, in retrospect, at some point over the last three years the coaching staff should have just handed Mats the pads and put him between the pipes. Maybe that would have been enough for people in this city to finally put the bloody leadership questions to rest.
The statistics above tell you all you need to know about your Toronto Maple Leafs. Screw leadership. Screw questioning Mats Sundin. Enough already. Until this team learns how to play some defence, learns how to kill penalties, or stops taking them altogether, and begins to support their goaltender, they will not make the playoffs. When the team is able to play with confidence in its own end, and is not afraid to take a penalty in a hockey game, leadership, regardless of who is wearing the "C," will take care of its God damn self.