Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin is an icon in the city he called home for 13 seasons and was universally liked in one of the toughest sports markets to play in.
He broke into the league with the Quebec Nordiques, made a huge impact with the Leafs, and even spent a brief time in Vancouver with the Canucks. The 6’5″ power forward proved a handful for opposing players throughout his career and will go down as one of the most accomplished hockey players to never win a Stanley Cup.
In the final installment of our four-part series highlighting the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame class, we take a look back at Sundin’s career and why he’s more than qualified to enter the Hall.
1. He is one of the best Europeans to ever play the game and was a record-setter in Toronto.
Sundin finished his National Hockey League career with 564 goals, 785 assists and 1,349 points, which currently ranks him 27th on the NHL’s all-time points list. Although he was one of the most skilled players of his time, he also played the game physical and finished his career with 1,093 penalty minutes.
Among Europeans, only Jari Kurri, Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr have more points. Sundin is the highest-scoring Swedish player of all time and the Maple Leafs’ all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987).
2. He is an Olympic gold medalist.
During the 2006 Winter Olympics, Sundin led his nation to a gold medal in men’s ice hockey. He was chosen to be the captain of a squad that included proven leaders like Nicklas Lidstrom, Daniel Alfredsson and Peter Forsberg. He finished the tournament with three goals and five assists in eight games and made a country proud as Sweden beat rival Finland 3-2 in the final game.
3. He came through in the clutch.
If 60 minutes was not enough to decide a winner, Sundin could be counted on to avoid a tie or shootout. He currently ranks second all-time on the list of most career regular-season overtime goals with 15. He sits just one behind future Hall of Famer Jagr.
Sundin was no slouch in the playoffs, either. Remember this, Leafs fans?
4. He was as consistent as they come.
Apart from his rookie year, during which he had 59 points in 80 games, his final season where he had 28 points in 41 games, and one year where he had 114 points, Sundin averaged just about a point per game. In fact, he had at least 72 points in 14 seasons which he played at least 70 games.
“The most important thing that identifies Mats’ career is a lot of great players are streak players. Mats was just so consistently good,” former Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher recently told NHL.com. “I guess you could call him a coach’s dream.”
5. He was a great leader on and off the ice.
In 1997, Sundin became the first European captain in Maple Leafs history and wore the C proudly for 10 seasons. Whether it was leading by example on the ice and in the dressing room, or doing work with various charities off the ice, the big Swede displayed the skills necessary to be a successful leader in the NHL. In 2008 he won the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
6. His 500th NHL goal was as memorable as they come.
Whenever a player reaches this milestone it’s a memorable accomplishment. But Sundin accomplished the feat in style when he hit the half-century mark against the Calgary Flames. With one blistering slapshot, he registered his third goal of the game, an OT winner and No. 500.
7. He was a fierce competitor, no matter the opposition.
It was the opening game of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and Sundin, one of the most popular players across Canada, took the wind out of the sails of Canadian fans with a fantastic performance versus Team Canada. He scored twice in a 5-2 win and to rub salt into the wound (a temporary wound since Canada went on to win the gold), Sundin scored against his Leafs goalie, Curtis Joseph, and the head coach of Canada was Pat Quinn.
8. He lived up to the hype.
Sundin was selected first overall in the 1989 NHL Draft by the Quebec Nordiques and he did not disappoint. He had 334 points in 324 games with Quebec before being traded to Toronto in 1994 in a deal that sent another former first-overall pick, Wendel Clark, back the other way. In Toronto, he became the franchise player and one of the NHL’s top stars.
9. He was an all-star staple.
Sundin was named an NHL all-star in eight consecutive years from 1996-2004 (although he didn’t play in 2004). This was a testament to not only his skill, but also his popularity.
10. He could shield the puck better than most.
Sundin has the skill to play a finesse game if he chose to, but instead used his size to his advantage. His ability to shield the puck in the offensive zone was almost unparalleled. If he had the puck below the hashmarks, he could play keep-away with almost any defender in the league. Later in his career, while playing on a line with Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, the trio was a dominant force in the offensive zone while cycling the puck.
11. He was a good sport and a marketable commodity.
Many players aren’t able to handle the pressure of playing in the sport’s largest market, but Sundin was very marketable. Even though he was a relatively soft-spoken leader, he never shied from promotion. Everyone remembers his classic soup commercials, but here’s another gem:
12. He wasn’t afraid to shed a tear.
Sundin spent his final season in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, and when he returned to Toronto the fans gave him a standing ovation. Sundin, in full Canucks garb, teared up on the bench and gave the fans a salute. Later in that game he would score the winning goal in a shootout with his famous backhand deke.
The Leafs honoured Sundin this past February when they raised his No. 13 banner to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre before a game against the Montreal Canadiens. It was another emotional moment for Sundin and many fans as well.