Mats Sundin's North American legacy places him among the best to wear a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, with the major caveat that he never delivered a Stanley Cup to the world's most desperate hockey market.
But when it comes to his native Sweden, several former teammates with the Vancouver Canucks said that Sundin's legacy will be vastly different.
"In Sweden, he's going to be remembered as a winner," Canucks assistant captain Henrik Sedin said yesterday. "He's won at every stage in Sweden. I know he would've loved to have won a Stanley Cup. That was the biggest thing for him, but he's going to be remembered as a winner."
Sundin, 38, called its quits yesterday after an 18-year NHL career. He scored 564 goals, added 785 assists, and is one of the highest scoring Europeans in history.
Across the pond, Sundin remains the most popular player in Sweden, where he was captain of the senior national team and won gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics. He also won three world championships and a Swedish Elite League title before becoming the first European to be selected with the top pick in the NHL entry draft.
"It was great to have an opportunity to play with him last year," Sedin continued. "It was a big thing, especially for us Swedes on the team, to play with maybe the best Swede who has ever played the game."
Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo said the news was not surprising to him. He bumped into Sundin at the NHL awards ceremony this June in Las Vegas, where the big Swede told the Canucks captain that he planned to retire. Luongo also took one last friendly dig at his former teammate, mentioning that Sundin never won a world championship "when I was there," playing for Canada.
When Sundin finished his half-season with the Canucks last year, losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semi-final, the strong belief was that he was going to retire. He was noticeably wistful on the bench, and later admitted he was taking it all in should that be his final game.
Canucks management, including general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault, have both lauded Sundin for the professionalism he showed after signing a $5-million (all currency U.S.) one-year contract with the team last December.
The Canucks had offered a two-year $20-million package, and are lucky that Sundin didn't accept given his on-ice performance, and the hell it would have wrought on the team's salary cap this year.
The former Leafs captain looked sluggish throughout his 49 games with Vancouver, was prone to poorly timed penalties, and suffered a knee injury in the playoffs. But Gillis and Vigneault say that he was routinely the first player at GM Place for games and practices, and showed some of their young players how to prepare like a pro.
"He helped the team by the way he played, but for young guys like me, it was great to watch him and talk to him because he's been around for a long time," defenceman Alexander Edler said. "I had never met the guy before that, and he turned out to be a great guy."
Edler and new Canuck Mikael Samuelsson said they grew up watching and idolizing Sundin, and that outside of Toronto, he will be remembered for much more than failing to win a Cup.
"He was a big force and held the Olympic team together," said Samuelsson, who also won a gold medal in 2006. "It was a thrill to play with him."