Sundin back, but not to play

Former Toronto Maple Leafs player Mats Sundin is honoured by the crowd during a break in play...

Former Toronto Maple Leafs player Mats Sundin is honoured by the crowd during a break in play against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto, Oct. 29, 2011. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:31 AM ET

Yes, Leafs Nation, Mats Sundin is coming back.

To Toronto, that is. Not to the NHL.

While Sundin admits that he will be emotionally “overwhelmed” when his banner is raised to the Air Canada Centre rafters next weekend prior to the Maple Leafs home date against the Montreal Canadiens, some of the recent suggestions on the internet that the big Swede might be considering a return to pro hockey is fodder to chuckle over.

First off, up to several weeks ago, Sundin’s hockey equipment was being stored in the basement of a Toronto home belonging to one of his closest friends. All the while, Sundin and wife, Josephine, have spent most of their time living in Sweden, waiting for construction of their dream home in the Stockholm area to be completed.

Secondly, in a phone interview from Sweden, Sundin told QMI Agency that he has not played any hockey, opting to take it easy and “let my body heal.”

“I miss the guys,” he said. “But as you get older and your body needs more work, it gets to be a real grind. I don’t miss that.”

Okay, moments later, he did ’fess up. Yes, Sundin revealed, he does have future plans to lace up the blades again.

“Borje Salming has an oldtimers team that tours Sweden,” Sundin said. “I’m probably going to play a couple of games for them.”

Even if the web reports of Sundin’s potential return were in jest, just the fact that someone would conjure up such the notion is an indication that Big Mats is missed.

And why wouldn’t he be?

For many of the years that Sundin was the captain of the Maple Leafs, he was never fully appreciated in Toronto the way the likes of Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour, even Salming were. Both Clark and Gilmour are on record as saying that very thing.

Even though he finished as the team’s career scoring leader, some fans always thought his 90-plus points should have been 100-plus. Those people always wanted more.

Now, 28 months after he announced his retirement, what has topped the wish list of Toronto management ever since Sundin left?

A big dominating centre, of course.

Maybe it is true. Maybe you don’t really appreciate something — or, in this case, someone — until it’s gone.

“Being the captain in Toronto is tough,” Salming said Saturday afternoon from Sweden. “Maybe Mats didn’t play as physical as Wendel and Doug, but he was a great great player. I’m so happy he’s being honoured like this.

“Toronto is the best place in the world to play hockey. When I started there (in 1973), we had a good team. But it can be tough. When you start losing, you start getting crap from certain (fans) and media members.”

Indeed, Sundin received his share of heat in 2008 for not waiving his no-movement clause at the trade deadline, much to the chagrin of critics who felt he owed it to the organization to be involved in a deal that would bring a return of draft picks and prospects to help rebuild the team.

“I thought we still had a chance at the playoffs,” said Sundin, whose Leafs ended up 11 points out of a post-season berth. “I hope people understand and respect that decision. I don’t regret it.”

A year later, even the Mats bashers came to their senses and gave the former captain an electrifying standing ovation when he returned as a member of the Vancouver Canucks.

“I’ll never forget that,” Sundin said. “The reaction was overwhelming. The Toronto fans are the best.

“When you are playing, you appreciate the support, but you are so focused, you don’t really soak up the atmosphere. But back in October, when I was in the stands on the day they announced my banner would go up, the warmth and honesty of the crowd was incredible.”

If Sundin thought he was feeling the love at the Air Canada Centre three months ago, just wait until he watches his banner go up on Feb. 11. He’ll be joined by family members including his wife, parents and brothers.

“To be honest, I’m surprised they are honouring me this quickly,” he said. “I’m so excited.

“To see the banner go up there with guys like Doug, Wendel, Darryl, Borje, who was an idol to me, well, it might be hard not to be emotional.”

For those fortunate enough to be in the building that night, give Sundin the reception deserving of the franchise’s career leading scorer. If anyone deserves it, it’s Mats Sundin.


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