Mats Sundin retires after nearly 20 seasons in the NHL

Quite The Ending On An Emotional Night
Monday, 23.02.2009 / 9:38 AM / By Mike Ulmer - Mapleleafs.commentator

At the end of his worknight, they asked Mats Sundin if he had proven, once and for all, that he was an emotional man.

“I’ve always been,” he said.

Who would argue after a remarkable night in which the Leafs longtime captain scored the winning goal in a shootout and was named the first star of a 3-2 win by the Vancouver Canucks.

Sundin’s return to Air Canada Centre was not without boos, but early in the first period, the Leafs game crew gave everyone the vote.

They played a 60-second clip of Sundin’s biggest goals scored over 13 impeccable seasons as a Maple Leaf.

The sellout crowd responded with wave after wave of applause. First Sundin stood up on the bench, then urged on to the ice by coach Alain Vigneault, he stood, bathed in gratitude.

It went on and on and Sundin skated into the face-off circle looking for relief. The linesman wouldn’t drop the puck. The people weren’t done.

Through it all, Sundin looked stressed, his features pinched, he even short-armed his waves of acknowledgement. His expression mirrored that of thousands of people in the building – he was trying not to cry.

“There were some tears coming,” he said later. “It was very special.”

An emotional Mats Sundin acknowledges the crowd at the ACC as he gets a standing ovation
Scoreboard technology has changed the interaction between athletes and crowds. I was there the night they saluted Maurice Richard in the final game for the Montreal Forum. When the great man wiped away a tear, the people saw the effect of their applause. “He hears us.” The ovation redoubled.

It was the same way Saturday. When the patrons saw the barely-constrained emotion, what they had long suspected had been proven true. Here was an athlete who felt the same way about them as they did about him.

Sundin’s perceived lack of passion was sometimes interpreted as aloofness. He was, in fact, anything but aloof but it was a side the public rarely saw. One of the rites of any season was the wave after wave of players, from Gary Roberts to Shayne Corson to Gary Valk to Alexander Mogilny who only understood Sundin’s real nature once they had played with him.

Fans, of course, don’t see that. They do see A. J. Burnett opting out of the final two years of his Blue Jays’ contract, worth 24 million to go play for the Yankees. He won 38 games in three years for the Jays, just a little over a dozen a year. Thanks.

They see Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Damon Stoudamire, Antonio Davis, hightail it out of town when things went south. Now Raptor fans search Chris Bosh for a hint of the same thing.

But the thing about Sundin is that he always wanted to stay, always considered it his particular calling to play for the Maple Leafs. If there was a distance, it was only one of perception. Only five players, George Armstrong, Tim Horton, Borje Salming, Dave Keon and Ron Ellis played more games than Sundin, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Ellis’s last Leafs season was 1981. Mats Sundin played about five more seasons worth of Leaf games than did Wendel Clark, whose position near the top of the Leafs pantheon is unassailable.

After the applause thundered down for two minutes, Sundin and the linesman had finished the bargain. The puck was dropped and everyone moved on.

With that ovation and another hand when he took to the ice as the game’s first star, the public had their say in the Mats Sundin question. Theirs was a vote of gratitude with a caveat; many begrudge Sundin’s unwillingness to waive his no-trade clause in his final days as a Leaf.

There aren’t many Mats Sundins, certainly none in sight and so the night featured electricity that fit the man. During the play, Sundin elicited a healthy dose of booing when he touched the puck but less than poor Kyle Wellwood, whose groin muscles and work ethic were equally substandard in the eyes of the patrons.

The closest similar outpouring for Sundin came in October 2006 when he scored a shorthanded, game-winner for a hat-trick against the Calgary Flames. It was his 500th goal and the crowd that night was like tonight's. He lingered that night, basking in the fans’ appreciation and this is not as easy as it sounds. You have to know when the applause will no longer come, when it’s time to go. On the ice, last night and that night, Sundin was unfailingly right.

It is an open question whether that faculty with Mats Sundin now. He can still hammer a puck and his hand skills look up to speed but tonight, at least, he didn’t show the powerful skating stride that set him apart. He has seven goals and 12 points in 18 games.

The most highly-anticipated night of the season came and went and it lived up to the billing. Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark had their numbers honoured this season. There was never any doubt how they would be received. Saturday brought suspense, emotion, drama and more emotion.

From now on, as far as Mats Sundin and the denizens of the Air Canada Centre, things are back to normal. The fans care a great deal. So too, does Mats Sundin.

Turns out he was always an emotional man. He has quite a way of showing it.

Playing career

Quebec Nordiques

Sundin was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques with the first overall pick in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, becoming the first European-born player drafted first overall in NHL history. At the time, Sundin was playing in the Swedish second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan for Nacka HK. He played the following season in the Elitserien for Djurgårdens IF, helping the club to the Le Mat Trophy as league champions.

Sundin made his NHL debut with Quebec during the 1990–91 NHL season, finishing second on the team behind Joe Sakic with 59 points. He scored his first NHL goal against the Hartford Whalers in his first NHL game on October 4, 1990. After improving to 76 points in his second NHL season, he led the Nordiques with a career-high 114 points in 1992–93, emerging as one of the league's premier young players. He played one more season with the Nordiques, recording 85 points in 84 games, before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs acquired Sundin in a trade on June 28, 1994. The Nordiques sent Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner, and a 1994 first-round draft pick (acquired through the 1992 Eric Lindros deal, traded to the Washington Capitals, used to pick Nolan Baumgartner) to the Leafs in exchange for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a 1994 first-round draft pick (used to pick Jeff Kealty). However, as a result of the 1994–95 lockout, Sundin's Toronto debut was delayed and he returned to Sweden to play again for Djurgårdens IF. When NHL play resumed later that season, Sundin made an immediate impact, leading the Leafs in scoring at a point-per-game pace with 47 points. In his third season with the Maple Leafs, Sundin recorded a 41-goal, 94-point season, the second-highest of his career and the most prolific during his tenure in Toronto. With the departure of team captain Doug Gilmour to the New Jersey Devils during the 1996–97 season, Sundin was named Gilmour's successor, becoming the sixteenth Maple Leafs captain and first European captain in team history.

After an 83-point campaign in 1998–99, Sundin led the Maple Leafs into the 1999 playoffs as the fourth seed. Bolstered by the acquisitions of forward Steve Thomas and goaltender Curtis Joseph in the previous off-season, the Leafs made it to the Eastern Conference Finals against the seventh-seeded Buffalo Sabres, but were defeated in five games. Sundin made another appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Maple Leafs again in 2001–02, but lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in six games. Sundin finished with a career-playoff-high 16 points in 17 playoff contests.

In 2002–03, after eight consecutive years as the Maple Leafs' leading scorer in the regular season, Sundin was succeeded by Alexander Mogilny, who topped Sundin's 72 points with 79. The following season, Mogilny suffered a serious hip injury that required him to miss 12 weeks which allowed Sundin to reclaim his spot as top scorer for the Maple Leafs that season. During the 2003–04 campaign, however, Sundin was the subject of league controversy with his infamous stick-throwing incident on January 8, 2004, against the Nashville Predators. Breaking his stick on an attempted shot, Sundin threw it aside in disgust. Instead of hitting the glass, the stick inadvertently went flying into the crowd. Deemed a reckless act by the league, Sundin was subsequently assigned a one-game suspension. After the game, as an apology, he gave a brand new autographed stick to the fan that had caught the broken stick.

As a result of the ensuing 2004–05 NHL lockout, Sundin spent the next season inactive, opting not to play in Sweden like many of his countrymen. When NHL play resumed for 2005–06, Sundin was sidelined in the first game of the season when he was struck in the face with a puck, narrowly missing his eye, but breaking his orbital bone. He returned to the lineup after a month to lead the team in scoring with 78 points. However, the Leafs did not meet the same success and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years in 2006. It would also mark the first of Sundin's last three years with the Leafs without a post-season appearance.

Near the beginning of the 2006–07 season, Sundin became just the 35th player in NHL history to reach the 500-goal mark. He achieved the milestone on October 14, 2006, with a hat trick effort against Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames. He scored the 500th goal with his third mark of the game over Kiprusoff's blocker in overtime to defeat the Flames 5–4. Later in the season, on March 20, 2007, Sundin reached 900 points as a Maple Leaf with a two-assist effort in a 2–1 win against the New Jersey Devils.

The following season, in 2007–08, Sundin began approaching several team records as a Maple Leaf. In the second game of the season, on October 4, 2007 against the Ottawa Senators, Sundin scored his 389th goal with the club, tying Darryl Sittler's team record. In Toronto's fifth game of the season, on October 11 versus the New York Islanders, Sundin scored his 917th point as a Maple Leaf, breaking Darryl Sittler's franchise all-time record. In the same game, he also scored his 390th goal in the third period, taking sole possession of the all-time goal-scoring lead. At the end of the game, he was ceremoniously elected the first, second, and third star of the game. On November 27, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, Sundin became the first player to score 400 goals as a Leaf. Several days later, on December 1, in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he broke Babe Dye's 83-year-old Toronto record when he extended his home game point streak to 15 games.

With the Leafs falling out of playoff contention once more towards the end of the season and Sundin's contract set to expire, Sundin was the focus of numerous trade rumours as the February 26 trade deadline approached. Maple Leafs management requested that Sundin waive his no-trade clause in order for the team to acquire potential young talent and/or draft picks to secure the team's future. On February 25, however, he stated that he would not waive his no-trade clause, stating that he did not believe in being a "rental player" and that if he won the Stanley Cup, he wanted to do it over the course of a whole season. He remained with the club and, with 78 points, marked the fourth consecutive year and twelfth of thirteen years as the Maple Leafs leading scorer.

Vancouver Canucks

Sundin became a free agent on July 1, 2008, although the Maple Leafs had previously given the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers special rights to negotiate with him until then. On the day of free agency, newly appointed general manager Mike Gillis of the Vancouver Canucks offered Sundin a lucrative two-year, $20 million contract which, if signed, would have made him the highest paid player in the NHL. Attempting to entice him to sign with the Canucks, numerous Vancouver businesses extended Swedish-centred special offers, such as a Volvo and IKEA products. The Rangers, Canadiens and Leafs also made contract offers, however, Sundin chose to hold out for the beginning of the season, contemplating retirement. After announcing that he would, in fact, return to the NHL and sign with a team, he narrowed his prospects down to the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. On December 18, 2008, the Canucks announced that Sundin had signed with the club to a one-year, $8.6 million contract. Pro-rated for the remainder of the season, Sundin's salary worked out to $5 million. Taking a $1.4 million pay cut from the Canucks' original yearly offer, Sundin reportedly decreased his contract willingly in order to give the Canucks added salary cap space to potentially bolster their lineup before the end of the season.

Sundin made his Canucks debut on January 7, 2009, in a 4–2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, and scored his first goal with the club two games later, on January 10, a powerplay goal in a 4–2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Sundin returned to Toronto on February 21, 2009, to play his first game against the Maple Leafs. The return to the Air Canada Centre became highly emotional when a video tribute was paid to the Leafs' franchise leader during a break in the first period followed by a standing ovation. The game was decided by a shootout with Sundin scoring the winning goal against his former team resulting in a 3–2 win for Vancouver. Having established himself as a point-per-game player throughout his career, Sundin was criticized for his regular-season play, managing just 28 points in 41 games while playing mostly on the second line with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kesler, Sundin returned to point-per-game form in the 2009 playoffs, however, as the Canucks entered the post-season as the Northwest Division champions. He missed the final two games of the Canucks first-round sweep against the St. Louis Blues with a suspected hip injury after falling awkwardly behind the net in game two, but returned in time for the second round against the Chicago Blackhawks. As the Canucks were eliminated in six games, Sundin finished the playoffs with 8 points in 8 games. On September 30, 2009 Sundin announced his retirement at a press conference in his native Stockholm, Sweden.
International play

Medal record

Competitor for Sweden Men's ice hockey Winter Olympics

Gold 2006 Turin

World Championships

Silver 2003 Finland
Bronze 2001 Germany
Gold 1998 Switzerland
Bronze 1994 Italy
Gold 1992 Czechoslovakia
Gold 1991 Finland

Sundin has represented Team Sweden at various international competitions, including the World Cup and the Winter Olympics, and has held the position of team captain for the national squad for the better part of the last decade. Sundin is widely recognized as one of the top players in the world in these international competitions, and has added a highly impressive list of accomplishments to his credentials as a result of his outstanding performance in the 2002 Winter Olympics and 2004 World Cup. Sundin has won three IIHF World Championships with Sweden in 1991, 1992 and 1998. Sundin finally clinched an Olympic gold medal with Team Sweden in 2006 in Turin.

A picture of his 'fighting face' when Sweden turned a 5–1 deficit into a 6–5 win over Finland during a World Championship game has become iconic. Sundin was the captain of the Swedish National Team in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Despite the controversy surrounding the team allegedly throwing a game earlier in the tournament, he led them to a gold medal with a 3–2 victory over Finland in the final. After leading his team to the gold medal in Turin, he stated that he did not expect to return to the national team.

Sundin has played for Sweden in:

* 1989 European Junior Championships
* 1990 European Junior Championships
* 1990 World Junior Championships
* 1991 Canada Cup
* 1992 World Championships (gold medal)
* 1994 World Championships (bronze medal)
* 1996 World Cup of Hockey
* 1998 World Championships (gold medal)
* 1998 Winter Olympics
* 2001 World Championships
* 2002 Winter Olympics
* 2003 World Championships (silver medal)
* 2004 World Cup of Hockey
* 2006 Winter Olympics (gold medal)

Personal life

Toronto is home to an intense hockey media, and since Sundin is a private individual, he was arguably the most scrutinized athlete in the city. He regularly deflected any probes into his personal life, and rarely spoke negatively of his teammates in public. In 2006, Sundin put his four-bedroom house up for sale for a price of $6.499 million, which led to a flurry of media speculation that he was unhappy with the Leafs and sought to move (and play) somewhere else. However, Sundin and his longtime girlfriend Tina Fagerström had parted ways, and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Richard Peddie simply commented that the real estate market was very hot, and that Sundin's house was "an awfully big house for a single guy." Sundin played with the Leafs the following NHL season. On April 30, 2008, Sundin was receiving a leadership award at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School in Guelph, Ontario, when he announced that he and his girlfriend Josephine Johansson were engaged to be married. The two had been dating for about a year.

In September 2008, Sundin announced an endorsement deal with PokerStars. He plays under the username "MatsSundin" and will donate any earnings to charity.

On August 29, 2009, Mats married fiancée Josephine Johansson. The guest list exceeded 200 people and included several current and ex-teammates.



* Currently holds the NHL record for most regular season overtime goals (15, shared with Jaromír Jágr, Sergei Fedorov and Patrik Eliáš)
* Ranked 20th all time in career goals (564) (Shared with Joe Nieuwendyk)
* Ranked 32nd all time in career assists (785)
* Ranked 25th all time in career points (1349)
* First European hockey player to be drafted first overall in the NHL Entry Draft (1989 by the Quebec Nordiques)
* Longest serving European captain of an NHL franchise in league history
* Only Swedish player to reach the 500 goal milestone
* Most career games, points, goals and assists by a Swedish hockey player
* Fastest overtime goal (6 seconds, tied with Alexander Ovechkin, Simon Gagne and David Legwand)
* First Swedish player to reach 1000 points 


* On November 27, 2007, in a game against the Montreal Canadiens, Sundin became the first player to score 400 goals for the Maple Leafs.
* On October 11, 2007, in a game against the New York Islanders, Sundin passed Darryl Sittler as all time leader for career points and all-time goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs
* Second player to record 20 goals in each of his first 16 seasons (shared with Marcel Dionne)
* 1st all-time in goals scored for the Toronto Maple Leafs
* 1st all-time in points scored for the Toronto Maple Leafs
* 2nd all-time in assists for the Toronto Maple Leafs
* Most assists in a period by a Toronto Maple Leaf (3) (tied with Darcy Tucker and Matt Stajan)
* Most consecutive games with at least one point to start the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs

Awards and achievements

* Swedish Champion in 1990.
* First European born player to be drafted first overall in the NHL Entry Draft. (1989)
* Named to the Elitserien World All-Star Team in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1998.
* Recipient of the Viking Award in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 2002.
* Named to the World Championships All-Star Team in 1992 and 2003.
* World Championships' Best Forward in 1992.
* Named to the Canada Cup All-Star Team in 1991.
* Named to the World Cup of Hockey All-Star Team in 1996.
* Played in the NHL All-Star Game in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 (injured) and 2004.
* Named to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2002 and 2004.
* Named to the Olympic Tournament All-Star Team in 2002.
* Captain of Tre Kronor, the Swedish national ice hockey team, in the 2006 Olympics in which Tre Kronor aqcuired the gold medals.
* Achieved 500 goal plateau on October 14, 2006.
* Achieved 1,300 points on February 5, 2008.
* Awarded the "Mark Messier Leadership Award" in 2008.

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