NHL Players Need to Protect and Respect Says Former Leafs Captain Mats Sundin

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and all-time leading scorer Mats Sundin (Kanishka Sonnadara)

Sundin Enjoying Retired Life and Watching from the Stands

Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and all-time leading scorer Mats Sundin (Kanishka Sonnadara)

From the time he entered the NHL to the time he retired, former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin has seen the game of hockey change considerably.

The issues currently affecting the North American game of hockey at the moment has many concerned about the future of the sport. Many critics have come out and derided the NHL for not doing enough to protect its players from head shots to counselling those that may be suffering from depression or substance abuse.

But Sundin, who is back in Toronto to watch his old team take on the NHL-leading Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre Saturday, thinks the game of hockey is just fine.

“I think the state of the game is good,” said Sundin. “I think there’s always going to have to be adjustments for the guys. It is a faster game, the guys are getting stronger.

“I think there’s an understanding of the hits to the head and how dangerous they are. At the same time hockey is a physical sport. You need to have the hitting for it to be hockey.”

Unfortunately, Sundin will not have the chance to see the game’s marquee player Sydney Crosby suit up on Saturday as the Penguins captain continues to suffer from post-concussion syndrome. Crosby has not played in months and there is still no clear indication when he will be able to make a return.

The league has created new rules to deter shots to the head and NHL’s new disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan has handed out numerous suspensions already this season. But as Sundin says the responsibility ultimately lies with the players.

“Guys need to protect themselves at all times on the ice and at the same time you need the respect on the ice from guys not to target the head,” added Sundin.

“So other than that hockey is a great game. It’s always going to be a great game and you just need to monitor what’s going on and protect the players because you don’t want a situation where it’s dangerous to be out there.”

The game suffered another black eye in the offseason with the deaths of three enforcers – all of whom suffered from depression – leaving many critics to argue that fighting was to blame and another reason why it should be removed from hockey altogether.

“Yeah it’s tough,” said Sundin. “The fighting has always been a part of the game inNorth America. I think it’s tough to completely get it out of the game. Most importantly, the physical aspect of the game you want to keep that there because that’s what makes hockey different from a lot of other sports.”

Enjoying Retired Life

Sundin gives high-fives to elementary school students on Thursday where took part in MLSE's Shape Up program speaking to kids about the importance of staying in shape (Kanishka Sonnadara)

Since retiring in 2009 Sundin has kept himself busy, but has for the most part stayed away from the game of hockey. He got married, spent a lot of time travelling and is now building a house in Sweden. Sundin still loves hockey but the one thing he doesn’t miss is the daily grind that came with playing in the NHL.

“It’s nice not to have that knowing you have to go work out in practice,” said Sundin. “I think when you’ve done it for almost twenty years the way I did, it was to the point the body just can’t take the grind anymore.

“Another thing that is nice is that you’re able to control your own days now. Once you’re in an NHL season then you know what you’re going to do everyday from September until May or June. So you get to that point and stage of your life, you’re older in you career and there’s other things that you want to do than just go out and play and workout everyday.”

Sundin still finds time to get into the gym and works out a few times a week, but it’s just to keep himself in shape. The Swede is enjoying retired life and has put very little thought into getting get back into the game again.

“Not right now,” said Sundin. “I’m not going to say never but I don’t think I’ll ever be a coach. But (I’m) always going to love the game of hockey, I enjoy it. Who knows, down the road if I’m going to get back involved with hockey – I don’t know right now.”

Although Sundin may not miss the physical and mental drain of being a professional hockey player, there is still one aspect of the game that he does long for.

“If you’re going to miss something, it’s kind of that moment when you get on the ice for a game or a playoff game and that kind of atmosphere,” said Sundin. “The feeling of that is impossible to recreate somewhere else in life, but saying that my entire life has been great for me.

“I feel a lot better physically and mentally. Once you’re career is over, it’s nice to watch the game from the stands. I love the game of hockey, but it’s nice to watch it from the stands now and enjoy from there.”

Now that he’s spending more of his time watching the game than on the ice – what are Sundin’s thoughts on the current edition of the Leafs?

 “I really like the Leaf team the way it looks right now,” said the Leafs all-time leading scorer. “I think they have the goaltending, they have the defence and they have scoring up front and they’re young. They’re all going to get better as the years go by so I’m excited about it.”

“I think the Leafs fans and the city deserves to have a great team and I think they have a really good thing going.”

With the Leafs off to a good start this season, Leafs Nation is excited as well, but only time will tell if the Leafs are on the verge of success or if it will miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season.

Leafs fans are undoubtedly hoping that Sundin is right, otherwise, it will be another long offseason.

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Photos courtesy of Kanishka Sonnadara.

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