I don’t know if any of you noticed but July 4, 2012 saw a pretty massive free agent signing that could really put a Stanley Cup contender over the top. Okay, not really, but lost in the shuffle of all the Parise/Suter madness was a signing that didn’t get a lot of coverage but warmed the darkest, frozen parts of my dead heart. If you couldn’t tell by the headline, I am of course referring to Steve Sullivan signing at 1 year, $1.85 million deal with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Sullivan is kind of an anomaly of an NHL player as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps it’s because of my age and the time period in which I’ve been aware of hockey but Sullivan has always been ubiquitous in a league full of changeover when it comes to players not named Nicklas Lidstrom. When reading up on Sully (which is totally what I call Stevey at the bar, usually not to his face or in his presence), I was shocked to find that he is only 37-years-0ld. I was confident he was, if not pushing Jamie Moyer-level years on this planet, at least he was in Omar Vizquel territory (thus ends our baseball comparisons for today). He just seems like that hockey guy, if you know what I mean. I can’t picture the league without him.
While no one sane would expect the news of Sullivan’s signing to steal headlines after a day like the one we all just lived through, there’s somewhat clouded fact hidden in the lack of fanfare that has been commonplace with Sullivan through his entire career and that little nugget is the fact that Steve Sullivan really is kind of good. Now, granted, this shouldn’t come as a huge shock to anyone who has been watching hockey for the last two decades but Sullivan has always seemed to fly under the radar when it came to players that you’d want on your hockey team.
Now, I say all of this with a few reservations. The first is that, while he may be younger than I expected him to be, Sullivan has still been playing professional hockey for as long as Morgan Rielly has been a living, breathing member of the human race. The second is that while Sullivan is still a solid, if unspectacular, forward, he has seen a marked decline from the nearly point-per-game forward he once was.
THAT BEING SAID, Sullivan’s production is still nothing to sneeze and is still has that point-per-game scoring ability. He’s also a guy with a veteran presence and is a leader in the locker room (full disclosure – I have no idea if Sullivan is these things I have just claimed him to be but sports media has conditioned me to say these things about veterans in any sport. My sports writer membership card gets confiscated if I don’t). Sullivan put up 48 points in 71 games last season and while that number may seem kind of pedestrian for any player spending 15 minutes a game sharing the same ice as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Sullivan got off to a horrendously slow start. Before the 2011-2012 All-Star Game, Sullivan was sitting on 22 points and a -7 plus/minus rating through 49 games. After the break, however, Sullivan started to find his game on his new team putting up 26 points in 33 games with a rating of +4 in that time. Sullivan also proved his worth in the playoffs contributing 3 goals and 3 assists in 6 games, though, to be fair, your drunk uncle that only visits on Thanksgiving probably could have scored at least a couple of goals during that Penguins/Flyers series.
The Coyotes are not only getting a savvy vet (can I keep my membership card now?) but they’re getting him at a cost-effective price, especially if second half, 2012 Sullivan shows up. He is definitely going to see a decrease in production just by virtue of a decrease in the talent of his linemates, but if he can score at nearly a point-per-game clip, which he proved he is still capable of despite his elusive age, he’ll fit in quite well in the desert as the Coyotes look to build on their surprising Cup run (which, for the record, I don’t think they’ll do regardless of Sullivan’s presence). Also, as a bonus, we can add losing Sullivan to more off-season moves (or lack thereof) that could potentially make Penguins fans freak out some more. And that’s always fun.
Perhaps I’m being too glowing in my praise of Sullivan, as his brief time on the Maple Leafs endeared him to me forever, a reality only compounded by the fact that immediately after leaving Toronto, Sullivan would put up four consecutive 60-point seasons (including a career-best 75 points in the 2000-2001 season). An athlete finding immediate success after leaving Toronto is nothing new (and is, in fact, one of the many things that has me diagnosed with early-onset alcoholism) but it definitely made Sullivan memorable in my impressionable, developing sports brain in the late 90s.
Sullivan isn’t going to set the world on fire and he’s not going to be that last piece that the Coyotes need to put them over the top, but he’s a player that I am glad to see play for as long as his body (and back) allows and has actually given me reason to pay attention to the Phoenix Coyotes (a feat long though impossible). And, hey, any time you can sign a guy who’s fan-ranked 251st on Hockey Reference’s All-Time Skater Rankings, you have to do it, right? Those things totally mean something. Right? Come on, just give me this one, alright? Thanks.