Sundin an underrated leader By Robert Picarello | NHL.com | Oct. 25, 2002
Sundin has scored 30 or more goals in nine of his 12 NHL seasons and has averaged over a point-per-game throughout his NHL career
When hockey fans discuss the game's elite scorers and leaders, names like Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic come up in the first breath. On the second gasp, players like Jaromir Jagr, Mike Modano and Eric Lindros are often mentioned. But why does it take the third breath or so to mention Toronto Maple Leafs' scoring leader and captain Mats Sundin? That’s a mystery considering Sundin's track record. Sundin, who was the first European to be drafted first overall at the NHL Entry Draft, has consistently put up solid numbers ever since he came into the League in 1990-91. During his rookie year, the Quebec Nordiques' first-round selection scored 23 goals and 36 assists in 80 games. He has been lighting the lamp regularly ever since. Heading into the 2002-03 season, the Swedish native has averaged 33.1 goals per game, 45.4 assists, 78.5 points and 77.5 games over the course of his dozen NHL seasons. He has also scored 30 or more goals in nine of his 12 NHL seasons and has averaged over a point-per-game throughout his NHL career. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward played his first four seasons in Quebec with the Nordiques. But on June 28, 1994, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a move to remember. They swapped the popular Wendel Clark, defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, prospect Landon Wilson and the Leafs' 1994 first-round selection for Sundin, defenseman Garth Butcher, prospect Todd Warriner and the Nords' 1994 first-round selection.
Talk about your blockbusters! The immensely talented Sundin knew he was coming to a hockey hotbed, a place where the rewards were great, but so, too were the risks. Adding to the pressure was the fact Sundin was seen as the replacement for Clark, a wildly popular player. While Clark retains his popularity, no Maple Leaf fan is calling for a do-over in light of what Sundin has brought to "Hogtown." Entering the 2002-03 season, Sundin has scored 262 goals and 346 assists in 606 regular-season games with the Leafs. If those numbers aren't impressive enough, on Sept. 30, 1997, Sundin became the first European-born player to captain the Maple Leafs. That’s further evidence of the great esteem in which Sundin is held in Toronto. "To be captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs is probably one of the finest assignments you can have in Canada," Sundin said. "But at the same time it is a very exposed position. Win or lose, as captain you are expected to always stand there in the dressing room and answer for what happened." Sundin has been a stand-up guy, season in and season out. Still, some of his teammates and former colleagues have voiced a similar opinion that Sundin doesn’t receive the respect to which he is entitled. "You do not get to appreciate a guy until you play with him and I see what he does every day. He is amazing," Leafs defenseman Jyrki Lumme said. "He is just a horse. With him, it seems whatever he does is not good enough. I have a feeling people do not realize how good he is."
Joseph: (Mats) is a world class player and he is a leader on and off the ice.
"Very few guys are that big, are that strong, skate as well as he does and have a set of hands like the perfect package," ex-Leaf goalie Glenn Healy said. "If you were to make a perfect player, that is what you would want, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. He has it all and there is not a thing missing from his game. He is a quiet leader who has great skills, but yet you would think he is the guy next door." "(Mats) is a world class player and he is a leader on and off the ice," former teammate Curtis Joseph said. One of the first things opposing coaches usually do when their team is scheduled to play the Leafs is draw up a game plan designed to keep Sundin off the score sheet. "He's so dangerous, sure, you have to be aware of that," Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice said last season going into the Eastern Conference Finals. "There's going to be more offense created by Toronto with a guy like that in the lineup, no question." But what opposing players and coaches do against him every night has no bearing on his game. Sundin just goes out and plays full throttle every time he goes over the boards, hoping to bring Toronto its first Stanley Cup championship since 1967. "When you play with him you see so much more and what I am most impressed with is he comes out to play every game," Leafs winger Mikael Renberg said. "No hockey player plays good every game, but he has very few bad games. Very few." Besides going all out every night, Sundin also takes pride in playing for the "Original Six" club.
Sundin: Having a chance to be the captain here is something I've really cherished the last few years
"Being part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a hockey club with so much history and tradition, is certainly great," Sundin said. "Having a chance to be the captain here is something I've really cherished the last few years." Another thing Sundin cherished was being able to represent his team in Toronto at the 2000 All-Star Game; an opportunity he said he'll never forget. "I think, first of all, it is a huge honor to represent the Leafs in an All-Star Game and then on home ice in front of our home fans it is something very special, something that I will cherish the rest of my life," Sundin said. "Toronto, in my opinion, is the hockey capital of the world, so there couldn't be a more suitable city to have an All-Star Game in. So this a great moment and something I will take with me for the rest of my career and life." Just as Leaf fans will take away innumerable highlights of Mats Sundin.
Onward and upward for Sundin By Alan Adams | Special to NHL.com Oct. 25, 2002
Sundin is coming off a career-high 80-point season in 2001-02, which was good enough for fourth place in the NHL's scoring race.
Here's something goalies don't want to hear: Mats Sundin thinks he can be better this year than last. Suffice it to say it's a hard act to follow.
Sundin is coming off a career-high 80-point season in 2001-02, which was good enough for fourth place in the NHL's scoring race. He was the top scorer in the Eastern Conference and was chosen as a second-team all-star, the first time a Toronto Maple Leaf has been so honored since Hall of Famer Borje Salming in 1979-80. The Leafs finished fifth overall in the Eastern Conference last season and a 100-point season left them one point behind Boston atop the Northeast Division standings. They scored 249 goals for the second-best production in the NHL, and Sundin's 41 goals tied for second in the race for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for the most prolific goal scorer. And to think, he feels there is room for improvement. "It felt pretty good last year, but we can all improve, including myself," says Sundin, who was the first pick overall and the first European to be the coveted top pick in the NHL Entry Draft, by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. He was traded to Toronto in 1994 for Wendel Clark and has led the Leafs in scoring every season since. "My preparation starts [in training camp] for the spring, and first object is to make it into the playoffs and that is my only concern and then we look to the next step. I want to keep improving my game and be a better player this year than I was last year. If we can keep this team going back to the semifinals, we will get to the next level and there is no doubt we have to keep improving. Hopefully we can take the next step this year." This season is Sundin's 12th in the NHL and he is entering his sixth as Leaf captain. Being the savvy veteran he is, Sundin is well beyond the point of measuring success by personal stats and the only goal he has in his sights is winning the Stanley Cup.
"I stopped looking at my own performance and I think that helped me last year," says Sundin, whose 58th point this season will be the 1,000th of his career. "In the back of my mind is obviously to make sure we get into the playoffs and then we move on. The playoffs are what I perform throughout the season and toward the end of the season for. I'm 31 years old and I really want to be a part of a championship team before my career is over and it's all I've really been prepared for and thinking about through the summer." The Leafs had a good playoff run last spring in spite of injuries to 10 different regulars including Sundin, Mikael Renberg, Darcy Tucker, Dmitry Yushkevich, Jyrki Lumme and surprise call-up Karel Pilar. They were taken to seven games by the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators and then fell to Carolina in six games. "It is so unpredictable now, look at Carolina, and if you would have asked me at the start of last season who I thought was going to be in the Stanley Cup final, they were the last team I would have picked. And there they were,'' he says. "I think with the experience of us going back to the semifinals again, I hope we are going to be a better team this year." On the ice, Sundin is one of those few players in the NHL who can change the tempo of a game on one shift. He is an agile skater for a big man (he's 6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and he protects the puck along the wall and makes it hard for people to reach in without taking a penalty. Sundin is evasive and he is hard to stop. His game is power and speed. New Leaf Tom Fitzgerald drew the assignment to check Sundin when he played for Nashville last season and he admits it was a mismatch. "There was no way I could have stopped him, he was so big and strong," says Fitzgerald. Because he is hard to stop, Sundin should benefit greatly from the NHL's plan to rid the game of obstruction. If the path to the net is unobstructed, Sundin will be more dangerous than ever.
If the path to the net is unobstructed, Sundin will be more dangerous than ever.
Coach Pat Quinn has come to appreciate Sundin for what he brings to the Leafs -- on and off the ice. And while Quinn isn't looking for Sundin to match his 80-point season, he's not about to tell Sundin to change his game in any way, shape or form. "He is one of those guys who have shown me an improvement since I first arrived here," says Quinn. "He has tremendous physical skills and where I have seen his improvement is in his positioning and his competitive nature. He will be a leader that way and for me to sit here and say he will score 100 points, I really do not care. "I would like to see him get 100, but I do not care about that. It is how he contributes toward the most important thing at the end of the night and that is whether we win or lose and he has always done that with his team first. That is one of the things I like about Mats and we hope that continues." Off the ice, Sundin is a poster boy for decency and he is the most popular Leaf in hockey-mad Toronto, having easily replaced the departed Curtis Joseph as the team's most valuable player. But it has only been during the last couple of years that Sundin has silenced his critics, who second-guessed his every move. People have now come to realize that Sundin is the straw that stirs the drink in the Maple Leafs dressing room. He may not lead the hard-nosed way Doug Gilmour did, and he may not flatten people like Clark. But Sundin does things his own way, and he is an effective captain. "I just like how he acts. He is quiet but when things have to be said, he takes charge," says Alyn McCauley. "He also listens to everyone. He just does not go to the hierarchy or the high-ranking guys and ask them what they feel and that is the gospel."
Sundin knows as well as anyone that the pressure is on the Leafs to perform.
Sundin knows as well as anyone that the pressure is on the Leafs to perform. When he met the media at the start of training camp, Sundin was put on the hot seat about the departure of Joseph to the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent and the trade of Yushkevich to Florida. The feeling Leaf fans had was of gloom and doom, especially with Joseph leaving. Sundin chose his words carefully, and he put those departures in their proper perspective. "[Joseph] obviously felt he had a better opportunity going to Detroit," Sundin said. "When you see a player of Curtis' caliber leave, it's not easy. Curtis is a great friend of mine and he was the backbone of our team and obviously we all wanted him to stay here. Sometimes you don't know why things happen, but Curtis made a decision for himself and his family and his career and we have to live with that and the most important thing for us is to move on. We have to believe we're going to reach where we want to go with Ed Belfour as well." That was classic Sundin. He was as smooth off the ice as he is on.