Sundin 'led by example', says Cliff Fletcher
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Almost 20 years after the controversial trade brought Mats Sundin to Toronto for Wendel Clark, Cliff Fletcher will be among those clapping the loudest on Monday night when Sundin is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. (QMI Agency/Files)
TORONTO - Thirteen years as a Maple Leaf made Mats Sundin a Hall of Famer and it was Cliff Fletcher who made Mats a Maple Leaf.
Almost 20 years after the controversial trade brought Sundin to Toronto for Wendel Clark, Fletcher will be along those clapping the loudest on Monday night when Sundin is inducted. On June 28, 1994, as Fletcher and Quebec Nordiques’ genral manager Pierre Lacroix walked into the NHL draft in Hartford, the six-player deal, with Sundin for Clark the centrepiece, was completed. A firestorm ensued among Leaf fans, one that was never quite doused despite Sundin going on to be the franchise’s scoring leader.
“It was a great trade for the Leafs, but very emotional from the standpoint of Wendel,” Fletcher said. “The face of the franchise for so many years was (gone). But Mats had a great Leaf career for well over a decade.”
Fletcher knew that Sundin would give the Leafs a one-two punch at centre with Doug Gilmour and correctly forecast he’d eventually be the team’s focus whenever Gilmour departed. But Sundin’s best years would come post-Gilmour with Fletcher gone and Pat Quinn as Leafs’ GM. Fletcher did move Clark when his value was highest and eventually retrieved him in a later deal with the Islanders.
“When we made the trade, Quebec was looking for toughness and Mats had just completed his fourth season in the NHL. He was very durable and had not missed a game. He was strong, highly productive, everything you want in a centreman, averaging 30 goals a season.
“The trade went down like a lot negotiations, like it might never happen and then to a larger deal (Todd Warriner and Garth Butcher to the Leafs, Sylvain Lefebvre exiting and a swap of inconsequential first rounders). Quebec had Joe Sakic and thought it was a trade they could afford to make. It started off with them interested in Wendel and we said only if Sundin comes back. Then it just developed in size.”
Not that Clark wasn’t a great leader, but Sundin grasped everything the job of captain entailed, on and off the ice.
“No one worked harder in practice,” Fletcher said. “If you were a young player coming up with the Leafs and you stepped on the ice and saw how hard the star of the team worked, you’d think ‘I’d better pick up my pace’. I thought Mats did his job with such grace, always making himself available, having time for everyone. He brought so many intangibles.
“He was not the most outwardly vocal person in the world, he just led by example. He had such a distinguished career. This is a happy day for me.”