Start the countdown

Mats Sundin says he’ll announce his decision on Aug. 1.

Before proceeding, let us pause for a brief invocation by Montreal’s poet laureate, the great Loenard Cohen:

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing 

If it be Mats Sundin’s will to play for the Canadiens, fans will be singing his praises – from Mount Royal and beyond – between Aug. 2 and some time in the late – possibly very late – spring of 2009.

Sundin has the potential to make the centennial  season one of the most exciting and, inshallah, successful in the team’s glorious history.

He’s that good – even at 37.

For the two seasons that Habs Inside/out has been in existence, I’ve watched every game the Canadiens have played against Toronto. Sundin has excelled in all of them.

He’s 6’5", weighs 240 lbs. and uses every inch and ounce of it. Sundin is a major load that no Canadiens defenceman – not even Mike Komisarek – has been able to handle.

In addition to being a solid player in all three zonesSundin drives the net. The importance of this skill – conspicuously lacking among Canadiens’ forwards – cannot be overstated.

The Canadiens led the NHL in scoring last season. But during the playoffs, the attack fizzled.

Defence tightens up in postseason hockey. There is less space, less time to make decisions, fewer pretty passing plays and tic-tac-toe goals. Most of the goals are scored within a radius of about 10 feet from the net.

Teams study video and analyze tendencies. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the way Philadelphia shut down the Canadiens’ power play.

The Flyers overplayed Alex Kovalev when he had the puck. They clogged the slot and took away the cross-ice passes that set up Andrei Markov one-timers during the regular season. They pressured Mark Streit into bad decisions at the point.

The only forward willing to skate into heavy traffic in front of Martin Biron was Saku Koivu. The captain is 5’10" – and it’s all balls.

The front of the net is not place for the testicularly challenged. Two  players who excel at crowding goaltenders – Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen – took a fearsome pounding in the playoffs.

You can’t win games that count without players willing to pay the price.

Guillaume Latendresse may turn into that kind of player.

Max Pacioretty will –  but  he’s at least a year away from the Show.

Mats Sundin would give the Canadiens instant net-crowding credibility – and a lot more.

Let’s be honest: a Sundin signing would not guarantee a 25th Stanley
Cup. The road to centennial season glory runs through Pittsburgh,
Philadelphia, New York, Ottawa– and that’s just the East.

Canadiens have two young goaltenders and a defenbce corps that is not deep. There were no serious injuries last season –  what are the odds of that happening again? 

But just try these forward lines on for size:

Tanguay-Sundin-Kovalev

AK46-Plekanec-SK74

Higgins-Koivu-Latendresse

And let’s not hear any nonsense about Saku Koivu being "demoted" to the third line.

On a Guy Carbonneau team, everyone plays significant minutes. And even without Streit, Carbo will have intriguing power-play possibilities. He could go with three dangerous waves.

Let’s be honest: a Sundin signing would not guarantee a 25th Stanley Cup. The road to centennial season glory runs through Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Ottawa – and that’s just the East.

Barring injury – and he’s been remarkably durable – Mats Sundin would have a spectacular season in Montreal. His praises would be sung to the Bell Centre rafters by 21,273 worshippers.

Yes, Vancouver would make Sundin the highest-paid player in the league. And in the wonderful world of free-market capitalism, there’s no such thing as enough money.

But Sundin comes from one of the global greedfest’s breakway provinces.

Michael Farbner of Sports Illustrated tells a great story about Hakan Andersson, Detroit’s genius director of European scouting:

A couple seasons ago, the Wings  a famously generous and high-class (and not coincidentally, successful) organization – wanted to pay Andersson a bonus.

He turned it down. The super scout thanked Detroit management but said he made enough money (there’s that oxymoronic phrase) to live very well in Sweden.

Interesting people, the Swedes.

And – as we may learn soon – they can play a little hockey.

 

 


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