By Glenn Healy
The Toronto Maple Leafs will pay tribute to Mats Sundin in a pre-game ceremony on February 11, 2012, raising his familiar No. 13 to the rafters at the Air Canada Centre – the sixteenth sweater so honoured.
The announcement was made Saturday night during the Penguins-Leafs game. The news was welcome and overdue. Give Larry Tanenbaum, the owner of the Leafs, full credit for repairing the relationship that existed between Mats and the team after he played his last game in a Leaf sweater. Tanenbaum pressed the reset button on the carnage left from the John Ferguson Jr. era.
In 2008, as the February 26 trade deadline approached, the Leafs were a few points out of a playoff spot. Leaf management approached Mats and asked him to waive his no-trade clause to be peddled off as a rental player for draft picks. Mats refused and drew criticism from management and fans.
He believed that the team could make the playoffs and, as captain, how do you say, “See ya” to the players on the team with 40 days left in the season and the team a few points out.
As a teammate of Mats, I can tell you that his sole focus was the guys in the room and not what was best for an inept management group.
The captain, who, in Mat’s case, also happened to be the greatest scorer in team history and the only player who could single-handedly get it to the playoffs, does not head to the lifeboat first.
Mats had an incredible career that will land him in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day. He had 13 seasons of 30-plus goals and 17 seasons when he had 20 goals or more. His tremendous accomplishments in Toronto were done without high-scoring wingers.
With Pat Quinn as head coach, the team had plenty of playoff success and incredible leadership. Those teams could have had six different players as captain, but it was clear on each of those successful teams that Mats was the leader. He was the only guy I knew who could verbally give it to Tie Domi and not end up in a three-hour headlock.
Tanenbaum has done the right thing for the organization by making sure that the damage done during the JFJ era was rectified quickly. Tannenbaum had to save the day with the Leafs treatment of Doug Gilmour (he’s the guy going into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year).
It was Ferguson Jr. who announced to the world that he would not re-sign the Leaf star, thus forcing Doug’s hand to announce his retirement. Could that have been done together at a joint press conference?
Ferguson Jr. made it all better when he brought Gilmour back into the organization as a player development advisor. Can anyone tell me what that exactly is or what he would have done in that role? Evidently, Gilmour couldn`t figure it out either as he was willing to move from that role to become an assistant coach with the AHL Marlies. Not a lofty role in the organization for one of its 16 greatest players.
Tanenbaum repaired the relationship, although it took 53 months to put a retired Gilmour’s No. 93 sweater to the rafters.
Tanenbaum has worked his magic with Gilmour and Sundin and the team has two great ambassadors and friends for life.
Next up for Tanenbaum is to see if there is any magic left to repair the relationship with Leaf great Dave Keon and put his No. 14 where it belongs, beside the 16 other numbers in the rafters.