One of the best rivalries in professional sports will be rekindled tonight in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs welcome the Montreal Canadiens for a Northeast Division clash at Air Canada Centre. (You non Leaf fans can boast about many things but there’s no denying that this match-up is one of the best sports rivalries, right?)
Before the old Original Six foes take the ice, however, the Maple Leafs will honor one of their all-time great players, Mats Sundin. The Swedish centerman will have his No. 13 jersey raised to the rafter in a ceremony prior to tonight’s game. Sundin is Toronto’s all-time leader in goals (420) and points (987) and is sixth on the Maple Leafs’ list in games played (981).
Let me preface my mini rant that I genuinely like Mats Sundin and I cheered and supported him during his time as a Leaf. As a Maple Leaf fan all my life there’s no denying the fact that Mats Sundin is amongst the best to ever pull on the blue and white (if not the best). I trust many hockey fans (both Leaf and non Leaf fans) would agree with that statement as well. I also believe that Mats Sundin deserves to be feted this evening. Sundin was a classy leader and seemingly always took the time to take the fire and glare of the media and fans for the team’s lack of success. (No Stanely Cups since ’67 make a few folks irritated)
My angst when it comes to the topic of Mats Sundin however stems from folk who want to place him on the pantheon of greatest players to play the game. (This week I found myself in the middle of many debates on this subject. I was like hitting my head against a wall) Unlike some Maple Leaf fans I’m able to separate the blue and white with the rest of the league. As good as Mats Sundin was for the Leafs can you really say that he was a Top 3 player in the league? How about Top 5? I don’t think so. Do you? Great Leaf success doesn’t instantly translate into being classified at one of the best to play the game.
Through no fault of his own Mats Sundin was the best player on an average squad. Leaf management could never surround him with the quality wingers (sorry friends of family of Jonas Hoglund, he doesn’t qualify as quality) needed for the Leafs and Sundin to have further success. You can’t really blame Sundin for the lack of quality linemates but c’est la vie. I wish I was taller and better looking but as my young son the Association will often tell me “you get what you get so don’t be upset”.
Far too often though when I chat with friends about Sundin they want to play the revisionist historian card and say “well if he played with better players”. If I recall Mario Lemieux played with Warren Young and Rob Brown and made them into snipers and had plenty of team success. If Sundin was truly in the upper echelon of players during his playing days then the excuse of “lack of skilled linemates” shouldn’t float, right?
Another question I would like to ask is where would Mats Sundin’s career rank on the all-time list of some other franchises like the Habs, Red Wings, Oilers, Penguins? (insert your team and fire off your comments) Is he a Top 5 player on these franchises? Only on the Leafs is Sundin a sure shot top 5 player. Again this isn’t Sundin’s fault at all but it’s reality.
As I conclude this mess of words I would like to reiterate that I don’t want to discredit Sundin and his place amongst the Leafs greats. He is an all-time Leaf, if not the best. The fact that he didn’t help bring home a Stanley Cup is irrelevant to me. I like Sundin and tonight I’m stoked to watch the clips and I’m looking forward to watching the coverage of his special night. I just wanted to take the time to state my feelings on conversation I found myself in the middle of quite often leading up to this night.
Reasonable comments are always appreciated.