Sundin No-Trade Clause Still haunting The Toronto Maple Leafs
June 28th, 1994. Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher pulls off one of his better trades, sending Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and Toronto’s first round draft choice in 1994 to the now defunct Quebec Nordiques in return for Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner, Mats Sundin and Quebec’s first round draft choice in 1994.
With the ultra-popular Wendel Clark heading to Quebec, a clear signal was sent to the fans and players that the Maple Leafs were headed in a new direction.
Sundin made his debut with the Maple Leafs during the NHL’s shortened lockout season, posting 23 goals and 24 assists in 47 games. Sundin followed that season up with a 33 goal, 50 assist effort, a season that would end up being his second most productive in a Maple Leaf uniform.
Sundin’s skill and quiet leadership eventually enabled the Leafs Nation to put the loss of Wendel Clark behind them. As such, Sundin became the 16th captain in Maple Leafs history during the 1996-97 season after Doug Gilmour (who was serving as captain prior to Sundin) was shipped out to the New Jersey Devils.
It was not easy for Sundin to replace Gilmour. In fact, much like his struggles to “replace” the legend of Wendel Clark, Sundin never really replaced Gilmour, but he did evolve into a solid leader.
Sundin’s quiet, confident demeanor eventually endured him to the fans, as did his offensive prowess which always seemed to be at about a point-a-game pace.
Sundin would play in Toronto for 13 seasons, boasting offensive totals of 420 goals, and 567 assists for a total of 987 points.
As impressive as Sundin’s tenure was with the Maple Leafs, the fans eventually turned on him when, with his contract about to expire in 2007-08, Sundin refused to waive his no-trade clause.
While it is impossible to predict what the Maple Leafs would have received in return for their once beloved captain, we can speculate that the Maple Leafs probably could have got at least two top prospects and a first round draft pick.
Two players and a draft choice do not make a franchise, but they sure could have helped the Maple Leafs when Sundin signed with the Vancouver Canucks the next season and they sure could have helped the Maple Leafs make the playoffs, a feat they have not accomplished since the 2003-04 season.
When pressed about his unwillingness to be traded Sundin would usually point to the fact that he never wanted to join a team mid-way through the season. If he was going to win a Stanley Cup he wanted to do it the honorable way by gutting out the entire 82-game season, followed by the 16 wins it would take to raise Lord Stanley’s Mug.
For the most part fans sided with Sundin on this matter, believing that he was all class. Now, Toronto fans have been proven to be foolish before, and they would be in the case of Sundin as well when, halfway through the 2008-09 season Sundin chose to sign with the Vancouver Canucks, proving once and for all that, despite his cries that he would never join a contender mid-way through the season, Sundin had, in fact, just kept the Maple Leafs hostage.
Sundin’s refusal to be traded is hardly the only reason the Maple Leafs have been an abysmal franchise since the big Swede’s departure, but Sundin’s actions (or lack thereof) certainly didn’t help matters and, when you consider the return the Maple Leafs would have got for Sundin, it is enough to make your Blue and White blood boil!
Just imagine if Toronto was able to land an extra first round pick that summer?
When you look back on the playoff teams of 2007-08, the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers represented the Eastern Conference, while the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars represented the Western Conference.
Surely, one of those teams would have been interested in Sundin. Surely, one of those teams would have been willing to part with a couple of prospects and a first round draft choice.
While it is near impossible to speculate which prospects may or may not have found their way to Toronto, it is a little easier to speculate on the draft choice as they are all part of the history books.
The 2007-08 NHL Entry Draft is quickly becoming known as one of the best draft classes of all-time with such stars as Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn (who Toronto traded up with the New York Islanders to draft with the fifth overall pick), Alex Pietrangelo, Zach Bogosian, Jake Gardiner, Micheal Del Zotto, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Ennis and John Carlson already stars in the NHL or emerging NHL stars.
Imagine if the Maple Leafs had two draft choices instead of one that summer. Could they have moved up from the number five pick in order to land Drew Doughty? Maybe they could have landed Jake Gardiner (now with the Maple Leafs via trade). Perhaps Michael Del Zotto would be wearing the Blue and White? Jordan Eberle, Luca Sbisa, Tyler Ennis, John Carlson???? All of these players were available in the late stages of the first round, where in all likelihood the Maple Leafs would have landed that additional draft choice should Sundin have waived his precious no-trade clause.
Sure, the addition of Carlson, Del Zotto, Eberle or Doughty would not have the Maple Leafs in Stanley Cup contention right now, but any of those players would be a welcome addition and all of them could be all-star caliber players for years to come.
Recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, few media members pressed Sundin on his refusal to waive his no-trade clause for the Maple Leafs. While the Leafs Nation is proud of Sundin and his many accomplishments as a member of the Blue and White he will forever have a black mark on his career for not waiving his no-trade clause.
Any way you slice it, in the end, Sundin hurt the Maple Leafs and some of us will never forget it.
Stupid no-trade clauses!
Until next time,