The first member of the Class of 2012 was a lock. Joe Sakic had the type of career that the Hall of Fame was built on. Multiple Cups with the same team, World Championships, Olympic Gold Medals, individual awards, All-Time counting stats at their positions, and a number retired by his team.
Mats Sundin, as Leafs’ fans know all too well only has some of those things. But when you take a look at his career you can see why he was a First Ballot Hall of Famer
Sundin was the first European player selected 1st overall going to Quebec in the 1989 entry draft. He accumulated 564 goals and 1,349 points in his career. Good for 21st and 27th All-Time in the NHL, respectively. He was remarkably consistent from the moment he entered the NHL, he is one of only two players to score at least 20 goals in their first 17 seasons, the other being Marcel Dionne. Outside the NHL he won 3 IIHF World Championships and Captained Team Sweden to their 2006 Gold Medal victory. He also spent most of his career in the center of the Hockey Universe.
As we all fondly remember, he Captained one of the NHL’s most storied franchises for over a decade and was their leading scorer for the majority of those seasons. He is 6th All-Time in games played with the Leafs with 981. He in the franchise leader in Goals (420), Assists by a forward (567), and Points (987) and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Many people don’t think that it should make a difference where his goals and assists were accumulated, but it does. For more than a decade Sundin was the face of the Maple Leafs franchise. While he never won a Stanley Cup here the Leafs were legitimate contenders more than once. I remember taking for granted the fact that the team would not only make the playoffs, but win a round. Two if we ended up playing the Senators.
Sundin was a big moment player. He scored 79 game winning goals as a Leaf, a franchise record. He was almost a PPG player in the playoff with 82 points in 91 career games with all but 14 of those coming in the Blue and White. He scored 15 overtime goals in his career a record he shares with Patrik Elias, Segei Federov, and Jaromir Jagr.
He did things like this:
I think to some extent Sundin was underappreciated as a Leaf. Despite his consistent production and leaderships guys like Domi, Tucker, Roberts, Joseph, and even Mogilny were fan favourites. Sundin was just so good and so consistent that we just assumed he would always be here. Then we didn’t want him here. His legacy among many Leafs’ fans was tarnished with his refusal to waive his no-trade clause to spark a rebuild. Thankfully the terrible years that have followed his departure have shown Leafs’ fans just how valuable he was to this franchise. I count myself among those who somewhat rediscovered Mats and his greatness in the past few years. All has been forgiven and the his number 13 was raised to the rafters of the ACC last February. Although, the Leafs might want to think about taking it down given how they performed in that building once it went up.
Sundin was a force in the NHL for over a decade, arguably the greatest Swedish player of all time, and the best Maple Leaf in a generation. He is now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.