Mats Sundin’s #13 banner was raised to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday night, and it made me think back to his time in Vancouver. Sundin, as you might remember, spent half a season in blue and green during the 2008-09 season. The Mats Sundin that Canucks fans got to see, at age 38, wasn’t of hall of fame caliber but he wasn’t a bust either.
Sundin struggled initially in Vancouver, trying to get back into game shape. He finished the regular season with only 28 points in 41 games, playing on the Canucks second line. But I get annoyed with anyone who compares Sundin to Mark Messier, whom the Canucks signed in 1997. The Messier experiment was a complete disaster, as the Canucks did anything but flourish with #11 in the lineup. The team under Messier’s leadership became divided early on, and was promptly dismantled after the arrival of the Moose. Messier was brought in to be the Canucks’ captain, first line centre and help lead the team to a Stanley Cup. Instead, they were one of the worst teams in the NHL. Sundin, on the other hand, was brought in to be the Canucks’ second line centre, and bolster their team for a long playoff run.
Mats Sundin’s regular season numbers weren’t exactly eye popping, but it was in the playoffs where Sundin showed his true value. I think a lot of people forget that Sundin played his best hockey as a Canuck in the playoffs. Sundin put up 8 points in 8 games, putting him behind only Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the team. Sundin’s best game was probably game 6 versus Chicago in the second round, which might have been remembered more glowingly in these parts had Roberto Luongo been able to stop a puck in the third period.
Perhaps the real legacy of Mats Sundin was what he taught his teammates. It has been said that he encouraged Ryan Kesler to shoot the puck more (it seems hard to remember a time where Kesler didn’t love shooting the puck now), and perhaps Kesler is better for it. Many people around the Canucks organization have said that Sundin was a good influence in terms of showing his teammates how he prepares for games. The following season, Daniel and Henrik Sedin rose to superstardom and Ryan Kesler became a Selke Trophy finalist. Nobody knows for certain if Sundin helped them reach that status, but it’s certainly plausible. And for that reason, the Sundin experiment was a success.