When Cliff Fletcher and Bill Watters were contemplating the shocking deal that would bring Mats Sundin to Toronto almost 13 years ago, they picked the brain of former captain Darryl Sittler.
The proposed swap would cost the Maple Leafs fan favourite Wendel Clark, but Sittler and the rest of the Toronto braintrust still saw an upside to the transaction.
"Cliff just had a vision and foresight where the team was headed," Sittler said yesterday. "Wendel was very popular and talented, but there were very few opportunities to get such a talented young gun like Mats.
"He has been the cornerstone of this franchise ever since."
On June 28, 1994, the blockbuster trade came to fruition, with Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and Philadelphia's first-round pick in the 1994 entry draft coming from the Quebec Nordiques for Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and Toronto's first-rounder in 1994.
Now, more than a decade later, even Sittler couldn't have predicted that Sundin, the man he had recommended to Fletcher, would be poised to overtake him as the Leafs' career goal-scoring leader.
Heading into tonight's game against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre, Sundin needs to light the lamp three times to equal Sittler's total of 389 goals scored in Maple Leafs blue and white.
"When he passes me -- and he will -- it's fine with me," Sittler said. "It was inevitable. I mean, did I ever think those records would last? No. (But) that will never change the fact that I'll always be proud to be a Leaf."
Sittler is impressed with the way Sundin over the years has embraced the rich history of the Leafs franchise.
"I think when Mats first came here, he learned from guys like Doug Gilmour and from talking to Borje Salming. He found out quickly what it meant to be a Leaf and has done a great job carrying that on.
"Longevity is a key. A lot of us never had the chance to stick around long enough to reach certain milestones."
Sittler played 844 games as a Leaf before being shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers in a controversial deal in 1982. That's 40 fewer appearances than Sundin has made as a Leaf.
"I've always looked up to Darryl Sittler," Sundin said. "He helped me from the day I got here. Either through adversity or the fact they traded such a popular figure like Wendel Clark, he has always supported me.
"(The record) isn't something I'm focusing on but I am aware how many goals I am away from it. It's an achievement but it's not something I think about during the season."