Mats Sundin has officially retired from the NHL after 18 seasons. The player that always gave his all for the Leafs has finally admitted that his body can no longer stand up to the rigours of an NHL season. It's a decision that was relatively quick in coming and was probably hastened by his recent nuptials. Other fans won't have Mats Sundin to kick around anymore. Considering his love for Toronto:
"Toronto held a place in my heart for 13 years. It is, and will always be my second home and home away from home."
It's a shame that the ending to his career had to take an almost farcical route as his myriad accomplishments deserved much better than to retire as the greatest player to ever don the Vancouver Canucks jersey. His dithering last season led some of us to insanity as we wait
ed to see where he would utimately end up and when the decision came it wasn't all that well received but that came with a caveat:
However, a few years from now after Mats has hung up his skates (for real this time) the Leafs will announce that they will be raising number 13 to the rafters. The team will hopefully have found success and fans will begin to remember the good times that he provided us. I'll probably find a way to get a ticket to the game and along with everyone in the building I'll give him the standing ovation that he deserves. Much in the same way that Habs fans re-embraced Patrick Roy the softening of Leafer's hearts will be gradual but at the end of the day the great memories will vastly outweigh the unfortunate way in which things ended and we'll tell the next generation of fans about how we were lucky enough to see Mats Sundin cruising the ice in Toronto, carrying a team on his back, and leading from the front.
Despite his refusal to waive his no-trade clause, his dithering about his future, his conflicting statements, and his eventual signing with Vancouver there's no doubting what the vast, vast majority of Leaf fans felt for the big Swede:
Seeing Mats as a Canuck will ultimately take on the same akward legacy as pictures of Bobby Orr as a Blackhawk, Darryl Sittler as a Flyer, or Lanny MacDonald as a Flame. Those images seem to come from some alternate reality where things did not turn out the way that nature intended. At the end of the day, I believe that his Hockey Reference caption is how Mats Sundin will be remembered:
First player to score 500 as a Leaf. All-time Leaf leader in goals and second in assists. 20th most goals scored in the NHL and most overtime goals in NHL history. Nine-time all-star. Captain of the Swedish Gold Medal Olympic team. Greatest Leaf Ever.
Thanks for the memories Mats. After the jump, I'll share a few of my favourites. Share yours in the comments or the fanposts.
I was actually in the building that night in 2001 when his slapshot ended the game in overtime to give the Leafs the 1-0 in what was eventually a sweep. We were on CBC because my dad and a couple of friends had painted our faces and were decked out in blue and white. Mats ensured that we left chanting "Go Leafs Go"
Sundin's 500th goal came at the end of a vintage performance. It capped off his hat trick after he had kept the Leafs in the game with his first two goals, it came short-handed since Mats always did what was required to help the team win, and it came on a huge slapper.
One of Mats' commercials of which there are quite a few. It's easy to forget how prevalent he was in NHL marketing at one point. He was a rare thing: a Leaf that the league used to sell the game.