“Heart, Resilence and Dedication”. #13…
Over the last few months I have engaged into multiple heated debates about former Leafs Captain, Mats Sundin. While Mats is no longer a member of the club, there are still many fans with opposing beliefs when it comes to his legacy/the way
he left the franchise and whether he should be honoured by the club. With the recent announcement that Scott Niedermayer will have his #27 retired in New Jersey I decided to ask on Twitter whether Mats Sundin deserved to be honoured and if so, why hasn’t he been honoured already?
After the recent month of debating and an answer on twitter that read “Mats shouldn’t be retired. He took the money from Van City after he said he wouldn’t. #noclass” I had to draw the line.
Many fans seem to believe that…
1. If Mats was in it for the Leafs like he said, or planned on signing elsewhere after the season, he should have accepted a trade at the trade deadline.
2. He was selfish, he said he didn’t want to be a rental player and then signed to the biggest offer in Vancouver.
3. He never won us anything.
Only the latter should hinder anybody’s views of him. When Cliff Fletcher dealt away fan favourite and face of the franchise, Wendel Clark, all eyes were on the young swede. What he brought to the organization was more than anyone expected with his hard work, production and respect for his teammates, the media and the game of hockey. After 13 seasons of dedication to the Leafs and the most consistent production the franchise has ever seen (12 straight seasons with 72 points or more) Mats finished his tenure with the Leafs as the all-time leading scorer (987 points as a Leaf). He rarely had the pleasure of playing with elite players (No, Lindros, Nolan, Niewendyke were not elite players while they were here, Mogilny and Roberts perhaps) but never once did he complain and he continued to give it his all.
When it comes to whether or not he is selfish for not accepting a trade at the trade deadline or the fact that he changed his mind on being a rental player, I really do shake my head. A few weeks ago I had somebody post that “A true captain would have been traded away”. How, the respect for a man who
frequently had his name chanted was lost so quickly is beyond me. After a player dedicates 13 years of his life to a franchise, who are we to say how he spends the final 3 months? Yes the return would have been nice and yes he said he wanted to retire a Leaf and would never be a rental player but are we not the selfish ones to ask our captain and leader to accept a trade and leave town in the middle of playoff run? A NTC is earned and should be respected; the franchise understood that, it’s too bad the fans didn’t. A true captain doesn’t abandon the teammates he’s dedicated to in the middle of a playoff run. If anything I’ve grown to respect him even more for staying, losing a shot at the cup in an effort to help his teammates make the playoffs.
As for those who don’t believe he should be raised to the rafters because he never won us anything I would ask you this: Did beloved fan favourites and currently honoured Leafs Alumni, Clark, Sittler, Salming or Gilmour ever accomplish anything more than Mats? The answer is no. No matter how you look at it, or how bitter you are that he went back on his word Mats is one of the greatest Leafs to ever play the game. He played with many lackluster teams and a few great teams, he broke records, he wore his heart on his sleeve, he played for his teammates, his captaincy was never questioned by teammates or coaches but he’s “selfish”? Tell that to Darcy Tucker or Tie Domi and I’d bet you wouldn’t be pleased with the outcome.
While he didn’t win that elusive cup, it’s not for lack of production or effort in the playoffs. I’d like to present you one of the greatest moments in recent memory for the Leafs franchise:
As Joe Bowen put it in the chilling call “Don’t tell me about heart and dedication and resilience!” and don’t tell me about selfishness. Whether you were in attendance, on your couch or at a local bar you probably erupted and you probably weren’t surprised that it was Mats who sent the game to overtime. Today you may or not loath him. It wasn’t the only incredible moment that Leafs fans praised Mats for either. On October 14th, 2006 Mats scored his 500th career goal. It was more than just a 500th goal though. It mattered. His 500th tally was also the game winner, in Overtime (most overtime goals in franchise history and one of the most prolific OT goal scorers ever), for his hat trick, shorthanded. Were any of you surprised? Did you praise him? He brought us these moments under one of the biggest microscopes in sports and somehow he should have done what we wanted and left in the end? Who’s selfish now?
If #13 is ever raised to the rafters, I hope Leafs fans will respond in the same fashion they did upon his return to Toronto as a Canuck, with the only suitable response… a standing ovation.