Last night Mats Sundin became the 35th NHL player in history to score 500 goals (and first to score it in a Maple Leafs uniform), and he did it in style. Not only did he pot a hat trick in a 5-4 win over Calgary, his 500th was a short-handed overtime game winner. About the only way he could have topped that was if he scored it while standing on his head.
In a city as hockey-mad as Toronto, it still amazes me that Sundin is as taken for granted as he is. No one questions that he's the Leafs' best player, but years of suppressed production under Pat Quinn's defensive, roll-four-lines-come-hell-or-high-water coaching left Sundin almost playing second fiddle to whichever 'true' superstar was in town that night, or getting the headlines at the moment. No one really considers him among the NHL's elite.
And yet, the numbers tell a different story. No, Sundin doesn't have the huge offensive numbers of some other players, but few are as 'clutch' as the Maple Leafs captain. He's the NHL's career leader in regular season overtime goals with 15 (granted, overtime is a fairly modern innovation), and his 36 game winning goals this millenium (since the 2000-2001 season) also tops the league.
At 35 Sundin probably only has one or two more dominant years left in him, and there were plenty of retirement rumors surrounding him this offseason due to some personal issues. Given the full-throttle style new coach Paul Maurice has employed so far, however, they may end up being Sundin's best in blue and white. The odds are long against Sundin bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto before he's done, but at the very least he should prove that he deserves to be considered among the NHL's upper eschelon, and cement his future spot in the Hall of Fame.
Posted by Erik Siegrist at 10/15/2006 8:58:00 AM