by PuckStopsHere on 10/01/09 at 02:01 AM ET
Today Mats Sundin announced his retirement. I like to write a career perspective for players who retire that I consider future Hall of Fames, such as Sundin.
Mats Sundin was born in Bromma, Sweden on February 13th, 1971. He was raised in the Swedish hockey system. Sundin first came to the notice of North American scouts in the 1988 European Junior Hockey Championships where he scored nine points in six games as a fifteen year old. Sundin was quickly promoted to the Swedish division two, where he was playing against men many years older than them and managed 18 points in 25 games. NHL scouts had seen enough to select him first overall in the 1989 entry draft by the Quebec Nordiques. This was the first time ever that a European had been selected first overall.
Sundin remained in Sweden the next year. He played in the Swedish Elite League with Djurgardens IF Stockholm, where he put up 18 points in 34 games and was part of the Swedish league championship team. By 1990, Sundin decided to try his luck in the NHL.
He joined Quebec and was instantly one of their better players. His 59 point rookie season was second highest on the team (behind Joe Sakic). Sundin had significant international success. That summer he scored six points in six games at the Canada Cup put him on the Canada Cup All Star team. This put Sundin on the Swedish World All Star team for the first of four times in his career. In the World Championships the next summer he scored eight points in eight games and made the World Championships All Star team. Sundin continued to improve offensively. His career best was 114 points in the 92/93 season. Despite his success, scoring at better than a point per game, Quebec opted to trade Mats Sundin in 1994. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and Philadelphia’s 1994 first round draft pick (acquired in the Eric Lindros trade - Toronto traded it to Washington before Nolan Baumgartner was selected with it) in exchange for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebrve, Landon Wilson and Toronto’s 1994 first round pick (Jeffrey Kealty was selected).
In Toronto, Sundin was a star in a bigger spotlight. He was immediately the best player on the Leafs, leading them in scoring with 47 points in the lockout shortened 94/95 season (his first in Toronto). Sundin’s international success continued. In 1996, his seven points in four games earned him a spot on the World Cup All Star team. This was a prelude to his 96/97 season where he scored 94 points. It was his best total in a Toronto uniform (scoring had significantly dropped leaguewide from his days in Quebec). Toronto promoted Sundin to captain, a position he held for 10 seasons. During his Toronto years, Sundin got more notice with leaguewide honors. He played in eight career All Star Games (all as a Leaf). In 2002 and 2004 he made the NHL Second All Star Team. Sundin was always good for about a point per game or better with the Leafs, but the Leafs were rarely contenders in Sundin’s years. Though international success continued with a 2006 Olympic Gold Medal in Torino, Italy, the Leafs fell further back in the standings. As Sundin was approaching free agency in 2008, pressure mounted for him to waive his no trade clause in an attempt for the Leafs to rebuild. Sundin declined and played out his days in Toronto.
The ill-will created in that situation led him to re-think his NHL career. Sundin pondered retirement throughout the summer and into the fall. It was December before he announced he would play again and signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Sundin had not stayed in game shape during his hiatus. This made him a disappointment in Vancouver. He put up 28 points in 41 games. This was his lowest total and lowest points per game of his NHL career. He appeared to regaining his stride by the end of the season, scoring eight points in eight playoff games, but as the season ended he again contemplated retirement. This time he decided it was time to hang up his skates.
Mats Sundin retires with 564 career goals scored (good for 20th all time), 785 assists (32nd all time) and 1349 points (25th all time) in 1346 games played. He is the highest scoring Swedish player in NHL history and has had significant success playing internationally. He won Olympic gold and three world Championships. He won a title in the Swedish Elite League. However, he never won the Stanley Cup. He is arguably the best player ever to fail to win a Stanley Cup title. Nevertheless, his years as the biggest star in the huge Toronto market cement his place in NHL history.
Sundin’s retirement leaves fifteen active players who I believe belong in the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens in the rest of their careers. They are:
Likely Chris Chelios will soon announce retirment as the NHL season is opening up and he has no team to play with, further depleting this list. As hockey is played this season, it is likely that there will be players added to this list as well.
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