So, unless you’ve been under some kind of rock for the past day and a half, you’ve heard that Mats Sundin, the 18-year NHL veteran, one of Sweden’s greatest hockey exports and one of the proudest Maple Leafs, officially retired from hockey. First, the stats: he ended with 1349 points over 1346 games split between the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. However, his best years came with the Leafs, a city which embraced him as much as he embraced it.
To my mind, Mats Sundin was one of the finest Maple Leafs to pull on the jerseys. I hear people talk about Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour as other, greater captains in recent decades, but ultimately Mats Sundin served the role much longer than either of them (11 years, to Clark and Gilmour’s 3 each) and was greatly admired across the league for his point-a-game consistency, strength & courage, quiet leadership and strong sense of “team.”
This last point completely turned off some Leaf fans in his last year with the team, as lame-duck GM Cliff Fletcher worked feverishly to get Mats Sundin to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline, something he refused to do in loyalty to the Leafs and in respect to the “rent-a-player” status he despised. I found it to be an utterly disgraceful attempt on both Fletcher’s part and the fan’s part to turn on him as much as they did in response to his taking such a principled stance. However, his reception at the ACC as a member of the Canucks the following year brought many of those disappointed in him back into the fold.
Sundin may or may not be elected into the Hall of Fame, but election into the Hall isn’t the be-all-end-all it tries to be when it comes to the greatest or more important players in team histories. Just as winning the Stanley Cup doesn’t define a player’s career (or at least he shouldn’t; is Sundin or Neely or anyone else less of a player because they didn’t win? hardly), the Hall of Fame doesn’t decide a player’s legacy. Sundin served the role of captain effortlessly in arguably the toughest place to play hockey in the league, served his country on many times with distinction, and played the game in the same tough, quiet and courageous way that other players such as Steve Yzerman used to play it.
I’m looking forward to the day when Sundin’s #13 will be raised to the rafters in the ACC.