Mats Sundin, perhaps the most hotly debated Leaf of all time (sorry, Phil), is in town. His number is being honoured this Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, and the recluse-in-retirement has come back to Toronto for the festivities.
Maybe the best Leaf of the past two decades, he was an affable if reserved player both on and off the ice. He was no flash in the pan; he became the leading Leaf scorer through 13 seasons of determined consistency. Known for foppish locks, McDonald—s commercials, and breaking hearts, Mats’ mere presence always caused a stir. And on Saturday he—ll be in the ACC, just a stone—s throw from the Hockey Hall of Fame. He—s eligible this coming fall, and it begs the question: Is Mats Sundin a first ballot hall of famer?
There—s a lot working in his favour, if Ken Campbell can be believed. There are more Leaf alumni in the HHOF than any other team. He was the first European player ever to be drafted 1st overall in the NHL Entry Draft in 1989, and carries the distinction of being the highest scoring Swedish hockey player (in goals, assists, and total points with 1349) in the NHL. He was the first European Captain of an Original Six team, and the longest serving European Captain in NHL history. He—s 20th all time in goals scored (564), 25th in total points. Further, he shares a strange honour with Marcel Dionne as the only players to score at least 20 goals in their first 16 seasons in the league.
Yet there are several factors leading to why Sundin will likely not get called to the hall. Despite his star status in Toronto, Sundin didn—t have a particularly laudable career. Though he scored the most of any Leaf living or dead, he never led the league in any scoring category. He had one 100 point season, no 50 goal seasons. Such is the bane of playing during the dead puck era.
Despite Olympic and World Cup Gold Medal, he never won a major NHL Trophy (The Messier Award is about as important as the Most Coordinated Bowler trophy I got at my 6th birthday). Obviously, he has no Cups, though one has to imagine the consequences had he had stayed with the Nordiques. Draw the comparison to recent inductee Doug Gilmour, who had 100+ goals less than Mats with 100 more games played. But he had a Stanley Cup, 2 Selkes, and with a nickname like Killer you tend to get what you want.
Also hurting his chances are those around him, including first ballot locks Brendan Shannahan and Joe Sakic, as well as 640 goal man Dave Andreychuk, and the most enigmatic of Russian snipers, Pavel Bure. Add playoff hero Claude Lemieux, and 3-time Selke/3-Cup ring holder Guy Charbonneau. Further hurting his chances is the fact that only 4 players get inducted each year (which explains how someone with 640 goals isn—t already in the Hall).
My guess is that Mats will sit and stew for a few years, joining the Tim Kerrs and Fred Sheros of the world. A great player, but one with enough knocks against his reputation or game to keep him out of immediate consideration.
What say you?
Last Night’s Highlights: