Sundin one of Leafs' greats ... just ask 'em

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Mats Sundin, Hall of Famer?

You bet. Maybe on the first ballot.

Have you ever heard of Clark Gillies or Bernie Federko, who already are immortalized inside the hallowed Hall?

Case closed.

Best Maple Leaf of all-time?

Leading scorer or not, no one can definitively say that. Not with names like Keon, Sittler, Armstrong, Mahovlich, Salming, Apps and Kennedy in the mix, just to mention a few.

Perhaps the aforementioned Darryl Sittler put it best yesterday when he heard the news of Sundin's retirement.

"He is definitely ONE of the best to ever pull on a Leafs jersey," Sittler said.

Brian Burke agrees. The Maple Leafs general manager confirmed the team will hold a ceremony to honour Sundin in the future, one that likely would see his No. 13 hoisted to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre where it belongs.

The bottom line: You can take Mats Sundin out of Toronto but you can't take Toronto out of Mats Sundin.

It's a fact of life that even his detractors can not change.

"Toronto is, and always will be, my second home," Sundin said yesterday.

He means it. While he and his new bride, Josephine, will set up a permanent residence in Stockholm, the couple is looking for a secondary home just outside of Toronto.

Admitting he did not miss the physical grind, Sundin thanked the Leafs organization and the Toronto fans for always being in his corner.

But were they?

It's a question that must be examined when reviewing the legacy that Sundin leaves behind.

For the longest time, no matter what he did on the ice, Sundin could never work his way into the hearts of Leafs Nation the way that previous captains Sittler, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour did.

How many times over the years did you hear a Leafs fan say: "Sure, Mats is good, but he's no Wendel or Dougie."

Gilmour heard it. Over and over again. He didn't agree.

"That label was unfair," Gilmour said yesterday. "His style was different from both that of Wendel and me. He should not have been compared that way.

"Sure, he didn't win a Stanley Cup in Toronto. But let's face it, he played with some good players. But (management) could have surrounded him with better talent."

Being acquired by the Leafs from the Quebec Nordiques for the beloved Clark back in 1994 left Sundin in an awkward position from the moment he first tugged on that blue-and-white jersey. Few players in franchise history have been adored like Clark was. No one could fill those shoes, especially a kid from across the Atlantic.

'An outsider'

"Here was a Swedish-born player coming in, a guy who eventually would be captain," Clark said last night. "Basically, he was an outsider in that he came from outside Canada. A Canadian team captained by a guy not from Canada.

"He broke barriers because of that. And he doesn't get enough credit for that. I'll say this: There wasn't a guy in that dressing room he didn't connect with."

From the moment Sundin hung up his blades, everyone started recalling their favourite Mats moment. Gilmour was no different.

"I remember feeding him a pass that sprung him on a breakaway," Gilmour said. "He scored on the play, which allowed me to register the 1,000th point of my career.

"When I jumped into his arms, he coddled me like a baby."

Maybe it's time that Leafs Nation coddles Sundin a bit.

No, he didn't win a Cup. He didn't crush people like Wendel. He wasn't a pit bull like Gilmour. He never racked up six goals in a game like Sittler.

But he was good enough to warrant a spot in the Hall of Fame. In the opinion of this ink-stained wretch, that's a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos