Canucks Rewind: Mats Sundin’s Debut in Vancouver

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Mats Sundin, Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Ian Jackson/Getty Images)

This week’s Canuck Way Wednesday Rewind covers the debut of the legendary Mats Sundin, who played his final days in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks.

Every Wednesday, we’re going to take a look at some of the most memorable events in Vancouver Canucks’ history, and how they have shaped the team today. From goals, assists and key plays, to trades, signings and debuts, this weekly segment should be a fond trip down memory lane for all Canucks’ fans.

On January 7th, 2009, the Vancouver Canucks visited Rexall Place to play the Edmonton Oilers. To the average hockey fan, this game looked pretty standard. Just another mid-season, weekday evening match-up between two divisional opponents. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Wrong.

Mats Sundin was about to step onto the ice for the first time as a member of the Canucks.

Originally drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Sundin made history as the first European-born player to be selected first overall. He put up 59 points as a rookie during the 1990-1991 season, the second-highest on the team behind Joe Sakic. He continued to improve upon his points totals the following season, registering 76 points in 80 games, before exploding for 114 points in 80 games in the 1992-1993 season.

Sundin was proving to management and fans alike that he deserved to be in the NHL, and he was slowly solidifying himself as one of the league’s best young stars. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep him in Quebec.

On June 28th, 1994, Sundin was involved in a monster 6-player deal. The Nordiques received Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson, and a first-round pick. In return, Sundin, along with Garth Butcher and Todd Warriner, were sent 800km west to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sundin did not waste any time making an impact with his new club.

Despite the shortened 1994-1995 lockout season, Sundin was still able to score at a point-per-game rate with the Maple Leafs, registering 47 points in 47 games.

And he didn’t stop there.

Sundin continued to showcase his offensive prowess on the ice, putting up 83 and 93 points in the following two seasons. Off the ice, he was evolving into a leader, and management took note. On September 30th, 1997, Sundin was named the 16th captain and, more importantly, the first European-born captain in Maple Leafs’ history.

Sundin would serve as captain for the next 11 seasons, smashing different records and milestones during that span. He led the Maple Leafs in scoring for all but one of those seasons, and made six NHL All-Star appearances along the way. He notched his 500th career goal on October 16th, 2006, with an overtime winner to complete the hat-trick against Miikka Kiprusoff and the Calgary Flames. 

Sundin’s tenure in Toronto did have a few blemishes. Most notably, in a game against the Nashville Predators on January 8th, 2004, when he threw a broken stick into the crowd and struck a fan, which led to a one-game suspension.

Of course, Sundin did not let that affect him much, and he continued to bring success to the franchise. During his 13-year career with the Maple Leafs, he led the club to eight different playoff appearances, which included two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999 and 2002.

Like all teams, however, age eventually started to creep in. The Maple Leafs did not qualify for the playoffs during Sundin’s last three years, and management was ready to move on from its ageing core.

Sundin’s contract was set to expire after the 2007-2008 season, and the trade rumours began to surface. However, Sundin did not want to be a “rental player” for a contending team and refused to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline that year.

He remained with the Maple Leafs for the rest of the season and became an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, 2008.

There were a few teams that were interested in Sundin’s service, with the Canucks, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadians emerging as the front-runners. However, he chose to not start the season with any club, and the future of his career remained in limbo.

After six months of contemplating retirement, Sundin ultimately decided to return to the NHL and signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Canucks on December 18th, 2008. Pro-rated, that ended up being around $5 million for the remainder of the season.

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