Sundin's leadership clearly on display

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Darcy Tucker took a pull of the pink protein cocktail Gary Roberts used in Toronto over four years. It is now as common in the Leafs' dressing room as oxygen.

"Trickle down," Tucker said.

"Trickle down."

Last night, Leafs captain Mats Sundin scored four goals and added two assists, including one that gave the Leafs a 6-5 win over the Florida Panthers.

On a night the Leafs could have been eliminated, they were instead carried to a temporary safety by the great Sundin who, in front of his teammates and former captains Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour, delivered one of the great performances by any Leaf. Trickle down.

Last night was about leadership, the invisible thread that connects winners. It's a thread that snaked to the Leafs room from former Leafs and present Panthers Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts.

Nieuwendyk scored three goals last night and added an assist while Roberts had a single helper.

"Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk, they're right up with Doug Gilmour and Joe Sakic for guys I played with," Sundin said.

"They're great leaders and guys that won Stanley Cups. I learned a lot from those guys."

We measure Sundin by what he hasn't done. He hasn't delivered a Stanley Cup. He hasn't won a scoring title. He hasn't won any major award. He's not a yeller in the dressing room. He saves his best play for Sweden and the world stage.

All, in some measure, true.

But so is this: all Sundin has ever done has been his team's best player if not every night, then most.

Since returning a rejuvenated player from the Olympic break, Sundin has scored 15 goals in 21 games. He saved his first four-goal game with the Leafs for last night.

Sundin may have been the captain but he was still smart enough to watch the way Roberts prepared.

And he emulated Nieuwendyk's statesman-like demeanour.

"Joe had that great empathy that great leaders have," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "He had that understanding how to help his teammates along through the tough times and good times. Roberts is the same way, he leads by sticking his nose everywhere, on and off the ice.

"Certainly Mats was part of that leadership core. Mats certainly displayed it tonight."

Trickle down.

Sundin's six points barely saved his general manager one of the most humbling nights imaginable.

Remember that dream you had, the one about being out in public in your underwear? Now you know how John Ferguson Jr. would have felt, especially if Tampa won and Toronto went down, thus eliminating the Leafs.

Never mind that during last summer's negotiation Ferguson was willing to go two years and meet Roberts' price of $2.25 million US.

Never mind that Nieuwendyk and Roberts had a long history of injuries.

Never mind that it may have even been the right decision at the time. It would have been the wrong decision in perpetuity.

The players who Ferguson decided to pay are using direct deposit these days. Eric Lindros and Jason Allison combined for just over $5 million in salary, about $500,000 more than the two ex-Leafs. The Leafs' duo delivered 99 games and 82 points, the Panthers' pair 115 games and 86.

All of it was swept under the cover. "I'd like to say I decided before the game I'd get four goals," laughed Sundin. "It doesn't really work that way."

Here's how it does work. If you're smart and talented, like Mats Sundin is, you can marry those two elements to make yourself a greater player.

And if you're wise, you'll watch the great ones. That's what everyone got to do last night.

"Watching those two guys go at it tonight was really unbelievable," Tucker said. Then he took a swig of the pink stuff. "The fans got their money's worth, and more."


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