When the chatter in Toronto involving a potential Mats Sundin trade was at its noisiest, several commentators suggested the Maple Leafs “owed it” to Sundin to pedal him to a contender. I disagree.
I’ve been working for The Hockey News since 1989 and believe I’ve been a very loyal and industrious employee, but I expect nothing from the company except fair treatment and a paycheck every two weeks.
The same should hold true for Sundin and Toronto – the only thing the franchise owes him is respect. The 36-year-old has served the team well, but has been paid handsomely for it – in excess of $50 million during his tenure. It’d be a nice story if he gets to hoist the Stanley Cup one day and moving him may be the classy thing to do. But there should be no obligation or expectation.
The more pressing questions for fans of the Maple Leafs, or any team in a similar position with an aging star, is if they do engineer a trade (and he waives his no-trade clause), what could they realistically expect to get in return? And is the booty worth it?
In the salary cap era, trades have become more difficult to execute, but some very prominent players, in the Sundin stratosphere or higher, have landed in new locales. Here are snapshots of what transpired with some superstar swaps:
The deal: Joe Thornton from Boston to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau.
The aftermath: San Jose got one of the game’s elite players, but has yet to experience true playoff success since Thornton’s arrival. Boston has spun its wheels as a non-playoff team, but leveraged Stuart and Primeau in a trade with Calgary for Andrew Ference and Chuck Kobasew. Sturm and Kobasew are top six forwards in Boston; Ference, when healthy, logs top four minutes.
The winner: Not as much as a rout as it first appeared, but the edge still goes to the Sharks and their 2006 Hart and Art Ross Trophies winner.
The deal: Chris Pronger from Edmonton to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, a first round pick in 2007, third round pick in 2008 and a conditional first-rounder.
The aftermath: Pronger and the Ducks won the Cup last season. Lupul, a disappointment in Edmonton, was the secondary part of a package that landed Joni Pitkanen from Philadelphia. Smid is slowly developing into a regular for the Oil this season and the first-rounder eventually turned into Riley Nash, a freshman forward at Cornell this season with average potential.
The winner: The Ducks have their Cup. The Oilers are left with some useful parts and some questions marks.
The deal: Peter Forsberg from Philadelphia to Nashville for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and Nashville’s first and third round picks in the 2007 draft.
The aftermath: A diminished Forsberg couldn’t get the Preds past the first round of the playoffs and his career may be over due to injury. Upshall, 24, is considered a cornerstone of the Flyers’ future. Parent, playing in the American League, is still considered a good defense prospect. Philly traded the first round pick back to the Predators to get exclusive negotiating rights to unrestricted free agents Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. The third round pick was packaged to Washington to help move up in the second round to acquire physical defenseman Kevin Marshall.
The winner: Who are we kidding? This was a slaughter of New England Patriots’ proportions.
The deal: Ryan Smyth from Edmonton to the Islanders for Ryan O’Marra, Robert Nilsson and a first round pick in the 2007 draft.
The aftermath: Smyth injected life into the Isles, helping them eke into the playoffs where they were ushered out by Buffalo in the first round. He then bolted for Colorado last summer. O’Marra is toiling in the East Coast League, Nilsson is showing flashes of his skill as a rookie, while Rourke is being spotted on the Oilers blueline.
Winner: Colorado…unless Nilsson blooms into a front-line player.
So what are Leaf fans to conclude about a potential Sundin trade?
Based on the aforementioned blockbusters, there’s no guarantee they’d secure a base for the future by trading their top asset. But holding onto him makes it near impossible to rebuild in a hurry.
The key is to swap him while they’re in a position of strength, not out of desperation (see Smyth and Pronger).
And you never know, like Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Keith Tkachuk, there’s always the chance he’d return.
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