Commentary

So, does Mats belong in the Hall?

Updated: September 30, 2009, 2:49 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

STOCKHOLM -- And so the greatest Swede to ever play in the National Hockey League has called it quits.

As befits his personality, Mats Sundin pulled the plug on a stellar NHL career in a most understated way. He announced his retirement Wednesday morning in Stockholm, yet nary a soul connected to the NHL -- and the league has two teams in the city right now preparing for games between Detroit and St. Louis on Friday and Saturday -- knew a thing about it.

But that's Sundin.

[+] EnlargeSundin
AP Photo/Claudio BrescianiMats Sundin posted 564 goals, 785 assists and 1,349 points over his 20-year NHL career.

Not that the big center's announcement was startling.

He wasn't at any team's training camp this fall, and his decision earlier in the summer not to play for Sweden at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in February was another clear indication he was leaning toward retirement. That, and the fact that he seemed out of step from the moment he joined the Vancouver Canucks midway through last season.

Sundin played in just 41 regular-season games and eight more in the playoffs. He could not help the Canucks get past the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round, just as he could not help his Toronto Maple Leafs get over the playoff hump during his long tenure there.

Now, the interesting debate over whether Sundin is a Hall of Famer will begin.

He leads all Swedish NHL players in every meaningful offensive category, including points (1,349), goals (564), power-play goals (160) and game-winning goals (96).

The next closest Swede in goals is Markus Naslund, also retired, who has just 395, so Sundin's stay at the top among his countrymen is likely to be a long one. He ranks 25th all time in points; that in and of itself might be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. He won a gold medal with Sweden four years ago, so that won't hurt, either.

But the fact that he never once played in the Stanley Cup finals, let alone won a Cup, will give voters pause. As it should.

Supporters will point out that during his time in Toronto -- he arrived in a controversial trade for former captain Wendel Clark in the summer of 1994 -- he rarely played with wingers who could be called gifted. Boo hoo.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Sundin was held out of the Hall of Fame because he didn't win a Cup and one of the reasons he didn't win that championship might have been his refusal to waive his no-trade clause during the 2007-08 season? It might have been Sundin's last best shot at winning a Cup. He was in the middle of a strong season for the Leafs and was coveted by a number of Cup contenders, including the Montreal Canadiens.

Would Sundin, the first European to be taken with the No. 1 overall draft pick back in 1989 and a consistent point-a-game player over his career, have made the difference had he joined the Habs, who lost in the second round that spring to the Philadelphia Flyers? Could he have helped Montreal beat the Pittsburgh Penguins?

In the end, Sundin insisted he wanted to remain a Leaf. He later refused to sign a contract with them that summer and waited until midway through last season before signing with Vancouver, where his play ranged from passable to dreadful.

In three years' time, when he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame, we'll see whether the unsatisfying end to his career will be enough to keep the greatest NHLer from Sweden from being enshrined.

It says here that will be the case.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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