You may or may not have heard about a story over the summer regarding Mats Sundin and his indecisiveness over returning to the NHL. It was buried among the many false off-season rumors and the circus coming to town in Tampa Bay.
Through nine games with the Vancouver Canucks, the big Swede has just two goals and is currently a minus-5 while Vancouver suffers through an eight-game losing streak. Over the all-star break, Sundin didn't even step foot on the ice and instead spent his brief holiday with his fiancée and dog; not something you'd expect from a soon-to-be 38 year old who's played eight games since March.
Not to worry though. Mats' struggles with the grind of playing professional hockey again has been noticed by famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who took time out of his busy schedule to encourage Sundin.
Once atop their division, they now sit in a five-way tie for eighth in the Western Conference. Roberto Luongo returned from injury on January 15 and has yet to record a victory. Head coach Alain Vigneault was polishing his second Jack Adams Trophy in three seasons just a few months ago and now is currently sharing the hot seat with close friend and Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Michel Therrien.
But things are totally cool!
The Canucks practised today at UBC Thunderbird Arena, and the highlight came 25 minutes in during a full-ice drill. During a breakout, struggling defenceman Willie Mitchell pasted struggling winger Mason Raymond against the side boards. Raymond didn't like it; heavy physical contact is unusual during an NHL team practice.
Mitchell turned and skated back into his zone to retrieve the puck, at which time Raymond ran him. Two hits, both clean, both unlikely.
Raymond went to the net. Mitchell followed him, and delivered a cross-check followed by a high-stick.
Good times ensued. Actually, they didn't. A scrum ensued, with heavyweight Shane O'Brien taking out Mitchell with another hit. No punches, no challenges. Just some good old-fashioned tension that happens when a team once leading their division is now in 10th place in the conference.
Let's not forget about that "unsourced, unfounded rumor from Toronto" about Vigneault being canned. You're telling someone from Toronto made up a rumor like that? Geez, you'd think they would have charged for that sort of inside information.
What's currently in the Canucks favor is that when Pavol Demitra returns this weekend, Vancouver will be completely healthy, a rare sight this season. Their remaining schedule will feature only seven games against likely playoff teams and you'd have to believe a now-healthy Roberto Luongo will start every game down the stretch and eventually bust out of his mini-funk. If he feels the need to, general manager Mike Gillis has about $3 million in salary cap space make a move before the March 4 trade deadline.
Whatever the issue is with Vancouver Canucks, the pressure is on the entire organization, and according to Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province the starting point in the team's turnaround should be a little life on the ice:
No, you can whinge (sic) about bad calls and bad breaks all you want. But the plain fact is the Canucks have long since used all their get-out-of-jail free cards and their season now becomes pretty simple.
Either they want to play for Alain Vigneault or they don't. Either Roberto Luongo is one of the NHL's three best goalies or he isn't. Either Mats Sundin is still an impact player or he isn't.
Either they get it done -- or they don't.
"It's not enough right now," said Daniel. "We have to find ways to win."
They have to find something. A heartbeat would be a good place to start.