Why Sundin belongs in the Hall of Fame

Mats Sundin never led the league in points and never once played in the Stanley Cup Finals. So why should No. 13 be in the Hall of Fame?

On Saturday, Mats Sundin will have his number honoured at the Air Canada Centre by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Next time he’s asked to fly back to Toronto, he should be honoured again — into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Here’s why.

Count the leadership vote: Standing just under a full two metres tall and weighing in at a fit 235 pounds, Sundin – square jaw, broad smile, long reach, Jagresque hips — is built like a leader and skates like a guy who will decide when he wants to give up the puck. Sundin wore the captain “C” on his blue-and-white Toronto Maple Leafs sweater for 11 of his 13 seasons with the National Hockey League’s most scrutinized club, making him the longest-serving non-North American captain in the history of the NHL.

Sundin entered the NHL a leader: He was the first European-born player to be selected first overall in the 1989 Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques. Sundin left the NHL with his head high, too. Instead of hanging on too long, as is the temptation for hockey lifers, and tainting his resume, in Sundin’s last stand, he put up eight points in eight playoff games with Vancouver Canucks.

Further: Though you don’t make it into the building with all the trophies for being a nice guy, Sundin’s selflessness should be acknowledged. In December 2008, when free-agent Sundin opted not to retire and instead inked a deal with the Canucks, he willingly took a $1.4 million pay cut from Vancouver’s initial offer so that the team could free up salary cap space and use the money originally earmarked for Sundin to build a better lineup.

In 2008, the league recognized Sundin with the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Count the comparison vote: Darryl Sittler was inducted into the Hall in 1989. He never won a Cup with the Leafs either. And Sundin left his franchise marks in the dust, finishing with 420 goals and 987 points as a Maple Leaf.

Sundin essentially owns the Leafs’ record book, and just last year former Leaf Doug Gilmour — whose career stats pale in comparison to Sundin’s – was inducted into the Hall.

Count the statistical vote: Factor in Sundin’s stints with Nordiques and Vancouver Canucks, and the 40-year-old (Sundin celebrates his 41st birthday on Monday) finished with gaudy career pro totals of 564 goals, 785 assists, and 1,349 points in 1,346 games played.

Though he only eclipsed the 100-point mark once, in 1991-92 with the Nordiques (a year in which he also notched a five-goal game), Sundin was the model of consistency. Besides his rookie year, the 1994-95 lockout season and his half year with the Canucks, he played 70 games and scored 70 points every season. Sundin scored 20 goals in his first 17 seasons; Marcel Dionne (a Hall of Famer) is the only other guy in the history of the league to do the same.

You remain better than a point-per-game player for 18 NHL seasons, you deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

<Count the international vote: Remember, this is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame. So go ahead and scrunch your face and dispute the valid points that Sundin never won a Cup in 18 attempts — never even reached the finals, for that matter. (Although Sundin participated in the postseason 10 times, the closest his Leafs came was in 1998-99, when Toronto lost to the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals.)

Sundin should be recognized for his accomplishments as a Swede and not just a Leaf. He retired with more goals, assists and points than anyone from his country. Not only was the Bromma-born Sundin the first Swedish player to make the 500-goal and 1,000-point clubs, he was a beast in international play.

With 77 points in 71 games played during international tournaments, Sundin played an integral role in leading Sweden to three gold medals at the World Championships and a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Sundin, of course, captained that team.

Count the big-moments vote: It helps if the guys in the Hall have stories — those indelible moments that endear them to a fan base and replay in slow-motion in the memories of anyone who saw them live.

Sometimes referred to as “Captain Clutch,” Sundin’s knack for scoring the big goal was uncanny. He shares the NHL records for most regular-season overtime goals (15) and fastest overtime goal (six seconds). Sundin posted a six-point game, a five-goal game, a 15-game scoring streak at home, and won playoff games with overtime heroics. His 97 game-winning goals rank him seventh on the all-time list, ahead of Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux, and Wayne Gretzky.

But the game that sticks out as most Hall-worthy occurred on Oct. 14, 2006. Facing the Calgary Flames, Sundin entered the game just three goals shy of the elusive 500 milestone. After scoring twice in regulation against Miikka Kiprusoff, no slouch in net, Sundin completed the hat trick, won the game, and became the NHL’s 35th 500-goal scorer by beating Kipper blocker-side in overtime.

Yes, the big Swede has enjoyed his share of big moments, and seeing his number 13 raised to the ACC rafters in Toronto on Saturday will be another one. But Sundin still deserves one more day of recognition in that city.

According to Hall of Fame induction rules, a player must be retired for a minimum of three years before being considered for the Hall. Sundin last skated on NHL ice in 2009. It’s 2012. Committee members, ready your ballots.

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