Thursday, October 1, 2009

Honouring The Captain

After 18 seasons in the NHL, Mats Sundin finally hangs em up today. While it was something I already anticipated, I found that it really affected me more than I thought it would...much like his return to Toronto last season.

Not having the fortunes of being brought up in a Leafs (or sports in general) household, I didn't become a Leafs fan until I got introduced to the game of hockey by school mates. I officially fell in love with the Leafs during their '93 and '94 playoff runs. Cue the summer of '94; I was nine, girls had cooties and Wendel Clark was traded for some Swede. I vividly remember the photo of a tearful Wendel on the front page of newspapers. I remember thinking how wrong that photo looked. Wendel was the baddest motherfucker of all time, he doesn't cry! (It wasn't until years later that I would discover how attached one could get to a team) Nine year old me had no clue who Mats Sundin was and I didn't have internet, nevermind a venue like PPP to discuss the trade at. The only thing I remember thinking is that Mats Sundin better be good because he has some big skates to fill.

Sundin didn't disappoint. He donned a funny looking Jofa helmet and led the Leafs in points, scoring at a point a game pace, during the lock-out shortened season. Sundin eventually ditched the Jofa helmet but still led the team in scoring in every season as a Leaf except one. Not only did Mats score, he scored when it mattered. Captain Clutch is tied for the most regular season overtime goals ever and has the most goals in the third period since 2000 (Okay, I'm not sure of the exact year but since I hate looking up stats I'll just assume it's 2000).

Sometimes I wonder how Sundin racked up the amount of points he did playing in the dead puck era. Jagr had Lemieux, Sakic had Forsberg and even Selanne had Kariya. Not once did Sundin get to centre a bonafide stud winger on the Leafs. Sure, he had Mogilny and Roberts at one point but Mogilny was way past his prime and Gary Roberts wasn't the 40-50 goal scoring Gary Roberts, he was a re-born Gary Roberts who came back from retirement due to a neck injury! A list of Sundin's linemates during his tenure with the Leafs would look more like this: Jonas Hoglund, Fredrik Modin, Sergei Berezin, Lonny Bohonas, Steve Thomas, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, etc. Serviceable NHLers? Yes (some, anyway) but nowhere close to being elite players in the NHL. I have no idea how he put up with that shit but he did. Not once did he complain about the quality of his linemates. Not once did he demand a trade. This just shows the class he exudes and how good he really was to put up as many points as he did.

Jaromir Jagr
Mark Messier
Wayne Gretzky
Steve Yzerman
Joe Sakic

I don't think there's any question that these players are(were) first ballot hall of famers but what else do they have in common? None of them scored 20+ goals for 17 straight seasons. Sundin was able to produce this feat despite a lock out shortened season. This just shows that Sundin is truly a model for consistency and durability. Just imagine his totals if he did have a couple of quality wingers to play with!

Make no mistake about it, Sundin is a Hall of Famer. Now I know what the detractors will say. "Sundin doesn't have any cups to his name!" Well, Borje Salming doesn't have a cup, Marcel Dionne doesn't have a cup, Mike Gartner doesn't have a cup, Brad Park doesn't have a cup and even Ray Bourque wouldn't have had a cup if he didn't go to Colorado for a season and a half. The Stanley Cup argument might be valid for a fringe Hall of Famer but Sundin should be a lock and he has the stats and the international accomplishments to back it up.

-First European drafted 1st overall
-Named to 9 all-star teams
-Over 500 goals and 1,300 points (Only Swede to perform either feats too!)
-A point per game player (again, most of which were in the dead puck era with shit teammates)
-Olympic Gold
-Most over-time goals ever

There really is no debate.

I wasn't able to score tickets to Sundin's return with Vancouver so I'm going to start saving my money for Sundin night. It will be great to see our Captain on the ACC ice one more time. I know the Leafs' stance on retiring numbers but they really should do it for Mats, the greatest Leaf ever.
Take it away, Bob Cole.