Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, arguably the best player to ever wear the blue and white, is on board with a scorched earth rebuild of his favourite NHL club.
Read on past the jump.
Sundin is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and he’s the all-time leading scorer in Maple Leafs history. He spent 13 seasons wearing the Maple Leaf crest on his sweater, and he wore the C on his chest for a decade.
He was a Maple Leaf player in the high-spending halcyon era prior to the imposition of the NHL Salary Cap. It was a time when the Maple Leafs were always players in free agency and buyers at the trade deadline, and rolled to the Eastern Conference Final time and again thanks to a bloated payroll and the perpetual incompetence of Ottawa Senators goaltending.
Since his retirement from professional hockey, Sundin has apparently kept a close and frustrated eye on the Maple Leafs.
“f there’s one team that I do follow in the National Hockey League, it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Sundin said during a brief appearance on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver on Tuesday. “It’s the team where I spent most of my career and being the captain there for many years, so obviously I’ve followed them since I retired. I wish that the organization, specifically the fans in the Toronto area that support the team, could get some success.”
So do we all Mr. Sundin.
In terms of how the Maple Leafs should pursue their latest rebuild, Sundin appears to be keenly aware that landing top-of-the-line prospects is the only way to do it right in a salary capped league. Which is why Sundin is all for a patient, long-term, scorched Earth rebuild; and is impressed to see management begin pursuing that course.
“With that said, it looks like they’re going to get a high draft pick and it looks like management is doing – I think – a good job,” Sundin continued. “They’re going to rebuild and find new young players, and sooner or later they’ll have a great team there and have a good run for the Stanley Cup.”
To this comment Vancouver-based sports media personality Jeff Paterson responded “haven’t they been saying that for years though?” to which Sundin laughed. He laughed that familiar, awkward, knowing laugh. The sort of laugh that’s instantly recognizable to anyone who watched Mikhail Grabovski grow into a bona fide two-way ace before being bought out, and then suffered through watching all 100 or so games of David Clarkson’s Maple Leafs tenure.
“We had a couple of good runs though when I was there… They’ll get back!” Sundin said defiantly, as if convincing himself.
The storied former Maple Leafs behemoth then proceeded to offer a full-throated endorsement of a long-term rebuilding project in Toronto, one premised on the accumulation of top picks and buttressed by a willingness to stay the course and deal with the losing in pursuit of long-term competitiveness.
“I think this is the first time I’ve seen that (the Maple Leafs) are really committing to rebuilding,” Sundin said. “Not only just saying that and then kind of hovering in the middle of the pack. Now they’re actually looking to add some top prospects and hopefully do a great job with finding those players.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to get back there.”
Sundin seems to believe that, as a fan, he can stomach the losing night in and night out. The question remains: can the city of Toronto? Can the Maple Leafs’ corporate masters? Can Brendan Shanahan’s nerves?
-with H/T to TSN’s Jeff Paterson