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A “night” next season at the ACC is one thing but is Mats Sundin a Hall-of-Famer?



Sometimes we make assumptions in the midst of a good player’s career.  One of those assumptions is that we project that they will be a sure-thing to get into the “Hall-of-Fame”, as though it was a slam-dunk that all guys having nice careers almost automatically make it.

Yet so many players have great careers.  But not everyone can get into the Hall.  Some guys get in as soon as they are eligible; others have to wait quite a long time (Dino Ciccarelli being a recent example). Others, like former Leaf Doug Gilmour, are still waiting.

One of the ever-engaging ongoing debates in sports, and certainly in hockey, is: who is truly Hall-worthy?  For me, not to be a Grinch, but I never believed Mike Gartner, for example, despite his 700+ goals, had a Hall-of-Fame career.  Nice skater and all that, but not someone who I looked to as the guy you needed in the playoffs.

Glenn Anderson, who waited a long, long time to get in, was a highly skilled and talented winger with those outstanding Oiler teams in the 1980s.  He also was a huge impact guy in the playoffs.  In my mind he deserved to be in—but as we all know, had to wait many years to get the “call”.

Some people didn’t—and don’t—think certain old-time players such as Bert Olmstead and Bob Pulford, two honored former Leafs, deserved to get in.  I think both did, again based on their being elite players over lengthy, productive careers but also, like Anderson, having been real impact players in the playoffs.

Olmstead (see the great old 1950s "Bee Hive" photo at right) was a grinding winger better known as a Hab, where he helped those great Montreal teams win several Cups in the 1950s.  He brought a winning pedigree and attitude to the blue and white when he joined them in the late 1950s and helped them win a Cup in 1962.   For his part, Pulford was a tough as nails center through mosty of his career.  He was a fierce checker who also scored many hugely important goals in the playoffs while helping Toronto win those four Cups in the 1960s.

But that’s always the argument.  Should the Hall be almost impossible to get into?  Should long-time Islander winger Clark Gillies (his case was much like Olmstead and Pulford’s) be in?  He is.  But should he be?  He was a big, bruising forward who could score, a real power forward.  Did he help make the Islanders champions, or was he fortunate to be on a great team?  Would he have been just another a good player somewhere else?

What about Bernie Federko, the fine St. Louis forward in the 1980s?  He’s in but some, like me, think he should be in there with the really, really good, but not Hall-of Fame level players.  (That said, I would have been more than happy had he played with the Maple Leafs in his hey-day.)

It’s more, for me, than just about regular-season stats, though “numbers” are important, I realize.
So before long, (2014?) Mats Sundin will be eligible.  We just heard that MLSE will honor the long-time captain with a night next season.  But what about the bigger and more significant honor—the Hall-of-Fame?

Here in Toronto we’re still waiting, as I mentioned above,  for Gilmour to get the call.  And Doug had an excellent career, including that Cup in 1989 with Calgary.  Though his pure numbers aren’t startling, we all know he was a gritty player who would do just about anything to try to win.  For a couple of years in Toronto, he may have been, if not the best, certainly the most valuable player in the game—a leader by sheer force of will.

But is that enough to make him Hall-worthy?  For me, his entire body of work makes him worthy, not just his good play in Toronto. (Click here to read my earlier assessment of how the careers and Steve Yzerman and Gilmour have seemingly gone in different directions and are looked at differently.)

Yzerman got into the Hall-of-Fame right away.  He played his entire career with one team and is now the GM in Tampa.  Doug played on half a dozen or so teams.  (He's now coaching in junior hockey.)  Is that why he’s waiting?

In any event, what do we do with Sundin?  If you are among those who think winning a Cup is the litmus test, I guess he doesn’t get in.  But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that he carried the Maple Leafs for more than a decade.  He was a fine captain, and did put up “numbers”, including over 500 goals and about 1350 regular-season points.  He averaged almost a point a game in 90+ playoff games and was a “plus” player in the playoffs—as well as in his regular season career.

He had size and used it,  when so moved.  He could skate and make brilliant plays.  He scored some very important goals with the Leafs, regular-season and playoffs.  He almost took them to the mountain top, with a fairly modest supporting cast.

But in the end, he didn’t.  So does he get in?

Most of us believe that, with better linemates, he would have been even more impactful.  That said, he did play with some elite guys like Mogilny and Gary Roberts, though Roberts was more of a high-end plugger, I guess we could say

To me, Sundin, as a captain and as an individual, was class on and off the ice.  While not a Cup-winner he was invaluable in some of the international success Sweden achieved, including the 2006 Olympic Gold medal.

What’s your verdict?  Does he get in?      

           

8 comments:

  1. Nope, Sundin was good, but you have to be great. Compare him to the greats of his era, and there are a lot, he doesn't deserve it.

    I wouldn't vote Gilmour in, but I'd put him in before Sundin. For years was Sundin considered one of the top 5 forwards in the league? Nope, he rarely if ever was. Top 10? Maybe for 5 years, 1992-1996. Not good enough.

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  2. Your opinion on Mike Gartner's eligibility gives me a good idea of why you don't think Mats is a strong bet for the Hall. However, statistical brilliance has to count for something, and Sundin is among the all-time career leaders in goals and points. There are currently 247 players in the Hockey Hall of Fame; Sundin is 20th in NHL goals. This is without considering his role as a European pioneer, setting multiple standards amongst European NHLers. I appreciate your perspective, but I think there's room.

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  3. Nirbo, I may not have expressed my view on Sundin clearly. I too believe that, based on his overall career, including his international credentials, he is a legitimate HOF candidate. I was mostly hoping to prompt more dicussion and see how other hockey observers felt about his pending candidacy. Thanks for your comment.

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  4. Sundin's name should absolutely be in the ACC rafters but I feel that might be as far as it goes. There are quite a few HHOF eligible players I would expect to see before Sundin.

    Based on stats, roles, and histories I feel that Sundin and Gilmour might be a most nostalgic Maple Leaf Legends. I hope I am wrong

    Brandon Slopack

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  5. Michael, thanks for the clarification. Your point about his international accomplishments is important too - some people consider Olympic Gold to be a pretty nifty accomplishment, and as the captain no less.

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  6. Long suffering Leaf fanMarch 28, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    I have to disagree with the first comment. Mats is worthy of being name to the hall when you look at his numbers as a Leaf in his 13 playing seasons.
    Most goals 420, second in assists with 557, most in points 977,
    most power play goals 124,
    most in short handed goals 23,
    most game winners 78,
    most overtime goals in regular season 15,
    second in hat tricks 16 (Sittler had 18).
    The hall is based on what that player means to his team. Does he make everyone on his team better through his leadership and play, and how does he perform in the playoffs. I truly believe that Mats meets all those credentials and more so when you compare him to Bernie Federko, Clark Gillis and Igor Larinov.
    Just a simple question when it comes to honoring players in this organization. Why isn’t Bob Baun and Rick Vaive face and number hanging from the rafters at the ACC? Baun should be there just on the merits of his playoffs heroics and, Vaive should be there for scoring 157 goals in three seasons! Does anyone else agree with me?

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  7. Mats definitely deserves a place in the HHOF. In fact, I think a case could be made that he's worthier than Gilmour, when all stats (international included) are considered. Funny how many Leaf fans derided Mats for years, but now he's generally considered one of the Leaf greats.

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  8. I'm gonna make sure to get tickets for the Mats Sundin honoring game and when he gets into the hall I'll be there for the hall of fame game too.

    I can't think of any player who played with Mats who didn't play better think of Jonas Hoglund getting 29 goals alongside Sundin. Think of Sundin's successes in International play he was always the best player on the Swedish team and they won much success with him as their leader.

    Many Leafs fans didn't warm to Sundin because 1) he is not Canadian and 2) he didn't do the minor, peripheral things in hockey like delivering crushing hits and fighting. What he did do was control the puck like very few hockey players can, score frequently and consistantly in the top 10 in the NHL, never the top, but unlike many players never had an off season. He led the league when he retired in all time overtime goals, and had a remarkable number of game winning goals if I remember correctly. The top scoring Swede ever and as said by another poster, the 20th highest scorer of all time, despite the fact that he played in the dead puck era. He has to be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

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