Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Mats Sundin is a Hall of Famer

Mats Sundin Leafs
Mats Sundin was never the best player in the NHL. He never won a major award and he never won a Stanley Cup. Despite lacking these typical qualifications, Mats Sundin is a Hall of Famer.

He scored over 500 goals in his career, 564 to be exact, making him one of only 42 players to accomplish that feat.  Those 564 goals put him 21st on the all-time list, ahead of Hall of Famers like Bryan Trottier, Ron Francis, and Stan Mikita.

He is one of only 32 players to score over 1300 points, and he sits 27th on the all-time list with 1349 points. That's more than Hall of Famers like Denis Savard, Mike Gartner, and Gilbert Perreault.

It's true, Sundin never won any major individual award. However, he was named to the NHL's Second All-Star team twice, once in 2001-02 and again in 2003-04, indicating he was the second best centre in the league those years (behind Joe Sakic) as determined by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

One of the reasons Sundin was shut out from major awards was because he never put up huge numbers (amazingly, his 114 points in 1992-93 wasn't even top 10 in the league). That might be what keeps Sundin waiting to enter the Hall of Fame: he wasn't so obviously dominant that you had to take notice. Instead, year after year, he put up high quality seasons, just not ones that would garner MVP votes.

But despite not reaching some crazy peaks, Sundin was remarkably consistent. Not including his first or last season, Sundin went through a 16-year stretch of hitting at least 30 goals in all but three seasons. During that time period, only Jaromir Jagr had more seasons with at least 30 goals.

Sundin was similarly consistent in his point totals. Although he topped 90 points twice, you could generally pencil him down for between 70 and 80 points at the start of the year, and like clockwork, he hit those numbers. Sundin never had the type of down seasons that many players endure. He was so constant in his production that from 1992 to 2008, he and Jaromir Jagr had 15 seasons with at least 70 points, more than any other player during that same time period.

Over that time period, which essentially spans the entirety of Sundin's career, only two players scored more points: Jagr and Sakic, two of the greatest players in league history.

Comparing him to Brendan Shanahan, himself a worthy first-time candidate for induction, Sundin scored slightly fewer points (1349 vs. 1354), but did so in 178 fewer games.  In only one season did Sundin fail to break 60 points when he played at least 50 games, and that was his rookie season, whereas Shanahan failed to do so in six seasons.

Another attack on Sundin's candidacy would be his major failing: never delivering a Stanley Cup to the city of Toronto. This is troublesome because many people (wrongly) require a player to win a Stanley Cup to be admitted to the Hall of Fame. However, this is an antiquated notion that assumes one player can single-handedly win a championship, which simply isn't possible.

Sundin's inability to win a Stanley Cup was not due to a lack of effort, either. He scored 82 points in 91 playoff games, slightly lower than his regular season point-per-game average, but a respectable amount. Of all skaters who played between 80 and 90 playoff games, Sundin has the eighth most points, just behind Cam Neely.

Plus, if winning truly is a prerequisite for induction look no further than Sundin's international resume, which counts as the Hall of Fame is not simply the NHL Hall of Fame. Sundin won a gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics, notching 8 points in 8 games, and over the years added three gold medals at the World Championship. He was Sweden's captain for close to a decade, and scored 83 points in 65 games in senior international competition.

The body of work Sundin accumulated over his NHL career makes him more than worthy for the Hall of Fame. However, with both Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan virtual locks to enter this year, Sundin will have to battle a slew of other players that have waited longer for only two remaining spots. There is a case for both Pavel Bure and Eric Lindros, which means Sundin might just have to be the next in a long line of eventual Hall of Famers that had to bide their time before getting the call.

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