Toronto Maple Leafs: Remembering the career of Mats Sundin

Mats Sundin had an incredible career for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Let’s look back on the legendary resume of one of the Leafs best captains ever.

Born on February 13th, 1969 in Bromma, Sweden, Mats Sundin was drafted in 1989 as the first European born player to be drafted first overall. Can you guess by who? Were you gong to say the Toronto Maple Leafs?

While many fans today might assume Sundin played his entire career in Toronto, he was in fact drafted by the Quebec Nordiques and proceeded to score 23 goals and 59 points as the team went on to play to a dismal record of 16-50-14 during his rookie season.

The next season (1991-92) Sundin truly broke out, scoring 33 goals and tallying 76 points but it became clear the team needed more than just Sundin, Joe Sakic, and Owen Nolan as they again failed to produce a winning record, going 20-48-12. Such a dismal finish would result in Quebec receiving the number one overall pick in the 1992 NHL Draft.

Any idea who they were going to take? In what turned out to be a franchise altering trade, with the number one overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry draft, the Quebec Nordiques drafted Eric Lindros. Lindros would never play a game for Quebec and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for six players, two 1st round picks, and $15,000,000.

Now playing with the likes of Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, and Ron Hextall, along with Joe Sakic and Owen Nolan, the Nordiques had one of the most formidable lineups in the entire NHL. At just 21 years old Sundin lead this talented roster in goals and points with 47 goals and 114 points, helping them qualify for their first playoff appearance since the 1986-87 season.

After losing in the semi-finals that year (1992-93), it seemed as though the amount of depth on the roster came to work against Mats as he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs before the start of the 1994-95 season. Having done some research, it seems there are tons of rumors as to who actually put the trade together but if you ask Sherry Bassin, who was the Assistant GM for Quebec at the time, it went something like this

“We started talking, and I said to Cliff, ‘I’m gonna mention one name to you, and if it gets out I’ll never trade him to you,’” says Bassin. “That was Sundin. Cliff’s eyes got bigger. I said the two guys we would want would be Clark and Lefebvre. “Cliff said, ‘Are you f—-ing crazy? If I put Clark’s name in the deal, you might as well put mine in there, too, because they’ll run me out of town.”

On June 28th, 1994 the deal was made, sending the young Swedish star to the Toronto Maple Leafs. During a lockout shortened first season with the Leafs, Sundin scored at a point per game pace with 47 points in 47 games, but they’d go on to lose in the first round of the playoffs after bowing out in the conference finals the two previous seasons.

Fast forward to September 30th, 1997 when Sundin was named the first non Canadian Captain in Maple Leafs history, guiding the Leafs to the playoffs in six of the next seven seasons while wearing the “C”.  After losing in the conference semi-finals in 2003-04, Sundin’s leafs would go on to miss the playoffs for seven straight years.

Mats would go on to lead the team in scoring in nine of the next ten seasons with hardly any offensive help aside from Steve Thomas early on and the often injured Alexander Mogilny for three years (2001-2004). During the course of his career with the Maple Leafs, Sundin never scored less than 27 goals in a season aside from the 23 during the lockout year. He would go on to score 30+ goals in 10 out of 13 seasons and pot 41 goals twice.

In a game against the Calgary Flames in the 2006-07 season, Sundin would go on to score his 500th career NHL goal, recording the milestone goal with a hat-trick. He would be just the 35th player in NHL history to reach the milestone, and while Sundin certainly could put the puck in the net, he was also able to reach the 900 point milestone while recording two assists against the Devils in a 2-1 win.

Surprising as it may be, Sundin does not hold any single season Maple Leaf scoring records, but he does hold all time Maple Leaf records with the most goals, points, even strength goals, and game winning goals, a true testament to his offensive consistency throughout his entire career. Mats Sundin is the only player in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs to score 400 goals for the franchise.

With the Leafs again floundering through another mediocre season destined to miss the playoffs management had to ask their star captain and arguably greatest player in franchise history to waive his no-trade clause. Sundin refused, proclaiming he did not believe in being a rental player.

“I have never believed in the concept of a rental player. It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June. I hope everyone will understand and respect my decision.”

Following the 2007-2008 season, Sundin became a free agent for the first and only time in his 18 year NHL career. Sundin was signed by the Vancouver Canucks in December of the 2008-09 season as he held out the first two months contemplating retirement. For Sundin, it was between the Rangers and Canucks, and ultimately, he chose Vancouver and head coach Alain Vigneault.

In his only season with the Canucks Sundin went on to score a career low nine goals and 28 points in just 41 games but made the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Over the course of Mats Sundin’s outstanding 18 year career he scored 564 goals, making him the only Swedish born player in the NHL to do so. He scored 8 hat-tricks, recorded 1,349 points in 1,346 games, made six All-Star teams. In 91 career playoff games he racked up totals of 38 goals and 82 points, proving that his consistent play carried over into the playoffs and in 2007-08 he won the Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Next: Every Team's Greatest Player Of All-Time

Want your voice heard? Join the Puck Prose team!

Write for us!

In 2012, Sundin was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, becoming just the second Swedish player ever to do so. In 2013 he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame and in 2017 was named as one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players.

Load Comments