Mats Sundin spent thirteen seasons as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. For eleven of those seasons, he served as the Leafs’ captain.
There’s a strange little asterisk on his resume, though – and it’s not the four years he spent as a member of the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted him 1st overall in 1989.
It’s that one solitary season at the end of his career, during which Sundin suited up for 41 games a member of the Vancouver Canucks.
A lot can be said about how poorly mismanaged the Leafs were at the time of Sundin’s unceremonious exit from the team at the end of the 2007-08 season; a season in which Sundin refused to waive his No Trade Clause to allow for the Leafs to at least acquire something of value from their aging captain at the tail end of his career. As such, Sundin left an unrestricted free agent, and, in December of 2008. agreed to an absurd 1-year, $8.6 million contract at a time when NHL stars simply didn’t make that money, let alone an aging player on his last leg.
As is tradition, it’s time we ask…
How Did This Affect The Leafs?
Let’s flash forward to February 21, 2009.
First off, as Jim Hughson so rightfully put it: a class act, for a class act.
Sundin’s standing ovation from the Leafs fateful on this February evening in Toronto was a testament to how beloved the former captain was by a city who had seen him carry teams deep into the playoffs – but never quite deep enough. Sundin’s time in Toronto may have ended in lackluster fashion, but on this night, his exit was thankfully not enough to erase the breadth of his achievements, or his enduring legacy as one of the greatest Leafs of all time.
This, of course, wasn’t all to be seen from Sundin on that night, however.
Watch the first few minutes if you like being reminded of Jason Blake and Nik Hagman. Additionally, skip to 3:00 for the goods.
I waxed poetically about Curtis Joseph’s last stand as a Leaf last week, but those words were perhaps best saved for this moment. In a world where the endings are so rarely of storybook nature, we take what we can get. Mats Sundin never delivered the Leafs (or the Canucks, for that matter) to the promised land, but the memories he gave us in his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and beyond were the lifeblood of a generation.
In his last stand, with the ACC crowd on their feet for their former captain, he left us with one final memory.
Being nostalgic for a Leafs loss is perhaps as bizarre as things could get. After all, this game falls right at the beginning of what would prove to be a dreadful stretch of lost seasons for the Leafs, who wouldn’t find their stride again for another 8 years under Shanahan and company.
But this one was different. This was the closest to an appropriate sendoff for Sundin as we could ever salvage from the ashes of the end of an era. Let’s remember it as such.