by PuckStopsHere on 07/05/12 at 02:41 PM ET
I make my cases using the Keltner List. This is a series of qualitative questions popularized by Bill James in baseball, but the same idea works well in hockey as well.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
It is not really reasonable to call Mats Sundin the best player in hockey at any point but since he was the top player in the large media market of Toronto, some people did incorrectly make this claim.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
By the mid 90’s after Doug Gilmour began to decline, Mats Sundin was clearly the best player on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He remained their best player until he left the team in 2008. This gave him a run of well over ten years as the top player in the biggest hockey media market.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
It isn’t reasonable to claim Sundin was the best centreman in hockey at any point. Some people might make this claim but I think it is incorrect. He did make Second Team All Star on two occasions in 2002 and 2004 but he never made the First Team. Centre is a tough position that usually has the biggest talent pool available so it is not to uncommon for a Hall of Fame centreman to never have been the best player in his position.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Mats Sundin never appeared in the Stanley Cup finals. His Toronto team was not good enough. Their best playoff run occurred in 1999 when Toronto made the semi-finals. Sundin scored 82 points in 91 career playoff games including 16 points in his 17 games in his semi-final appearance. Although he never had a really memorable playoff run, it is hard to fault him personally for it. His teams were not good enough.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Sundin played in the league until age 38. His final season was only a partial season with Vancouver because he sat out the first half of the year and he never really got on track as a top player with the team. At age 37 in his last year with Toronto he was a point per game player. This is well beyond the prime of most NHL players.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
It is reasonable to argue that Sundin is the best available player who is Hall of fame eligible excluding those he was inducted with. The strongest argument against this is Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan and Sundin had roughly the same point total in their careers with Shanahan requiring about 180 more games to do so. This neglects the fact that Shanahan had a better playoff career, which is largely due to his playing on a better team. It is quite reasonable to believe Sundin is the best Hall of Fame eligible player and it is similarly reasonable to make that argument about Shanahan.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
Sundin had 1349 career points. This places him 27th all time. The only player who is Hall of Fame eligible and not there with more career points is Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan had five more points. Thus most players with comparable career statistics are inducted in the Hall of Fame.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Yes. The 22nd highest goal scorer and 27th point scorer all time clearly has career numbers that meet Hall of Fame standards.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
I cannot find any strong evidence to suggest Sundin was significantly better or worse than his statistics. The best argument is that the first half of his career occurred during the highest scoring era in NHL history. Scoring dropped significantly for much of Sundin’s career but era effects will downgrade his totals somewhat when they are adjusted out of his statistics.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Yes he is the best eligible centreman for the Hall of Fame. His biggest challenge would be Eric Lindros who had a much shorter career and thus does not have comparable career numbers.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Sundin was never a Hart Trophy nominee. He often received a few votes down ballot in the Hart trophy race and has a few finishes in the latter part of the top ten.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
Sundin was chosen for nine All Star Games and played in eight. These numbers are very Hall of Fame worthy. There are five or six more seasons he played that potentially could have been all star calibre. That too is Hall of Fame level.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
While Sundin was the best player on his team for many years, they were never a big winner. With a better supporting cast this might have been possible. Teams have won Stanley Cups with a player worse than Sundin as their top player, though these tend to be weaker Stanley Cup winners.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
I think Sundin’s biggest impact that has not yet been captured by these questions is Sundin’s international play. He is the most successful Swede ever internationally. He captained Sweden to the 2006 Olympic Gold Medal. In total he scored 77 points in 71 games for Sweden internationally. This is a significant impact on hockey history. That does not consider the fact he was the best player on the team in hockey’s biggest media market for over a decade. That made him one of the more recognizable players in hockey at the time.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Yes. Sundin was a top leader and a character player. He won a “Mark Messier Leadership Award” for what that is worth. He was a well respected captain of an NHL club for a decade and captained a gold medal winning Olympic Team.
Mats Sundin is a clear Hall of Fame player. There was some controversy when he was selected to the Hall this year and not Brendan Shanahan in their first year of eligibility. This is a close call and given Sundin’s international success it is very easily defended.
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