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NHL Awards Interviews: Sundin and Ovechkin

Wednesday, 05.28.2008 / 5:41 PM / 2011 NHL Awards

NHL.com

Q.  Talk about the trials and tribulations of being a leader in Toronto during this season?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I think over the years playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, you realize what it means for Toronto, the people in Toronto. And also being the captain there. But as the long period I've been with Toronto being a captain, I think I've come to cherish, I think, the position more. And I think knowing that there's a chance, the Toronto Maple Leafs hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967. With the challenge of having that dream of being part of something like that in the future has driven me and wanted me to be part of that. Toronto is a great hockey town. It's the hockey town of the world. It's exciting for me to be a part of that.

Q.  Mats, what decision have you reached about playing next season?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I don't have an answer to any of those questions. I haven't made a decision about next year. I'm still trying to think about what I'm going to do training for another season. I don't have the answer for that first question. In terms of Fletcher, I haven't talked to him until the end of the season, and as I know of now, I don't know. We haven't heard anything.

Q.  Was this the most challenging year, though, for you in Toronto, and if so, does that make being honored for your contributions a little more significant.
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I know we missed the playoffs the last couple of years. Knowing what we went through this year, again, yeah, for sure. And saying that, though, I think you look at a lot of teams -- we keep saying that you're not that far off. But the League, nowadays, is more competitive than before. You see Philadelphia, they got blasted. I think last year they ended up going to the conference finals. This year? But definitely, it's been a challenging year, I think, for the whole team and organization. I think we have hockey fans, because we started with some success in Toronto and having a team that's competitive and one of the top teams in the League. When you don't, when it happens in a row, there's going to be a lot of changes and stuff going on. That comes with that. That affects everybody, including myself.

Q.  Mats, given what you said earlier, trade deadline, wanting to remain in the League, the journey and all that. Doesn't your decision really come down to playing with the League, for the League next season or retiring?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I don't know. I do think I have a lot of different options in terms of: I have a lot of options I can explore. And I think I still remain that I want to end my career as a Toronto Maple Leaf. Saying that, though, the way the situation is right now, I don't have everything in my control either. There's got to be a mutual agreement there. And as I said, I don't have any -- at this point, I don't have anything I can say about what's going to happen next year personally yet. I don't know.

Q.  Seeing that the NHL is going to be opening [in Sweden] next year, I was curious from your perspective what does that mean to you, to the country, to the League?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
Well, it's huge. Sweden is -- I mean, hockey is hockey. And soccer has been kind of the national sport. So for the National Hockey League to have some games over there, the way the League is now based, there's a lot of Swedish players having success in the National Hockey League. That's great. I think it's great exposure for the National Hockey League in Europe. I know Sweden is proud to have a chance to host these two games. I don't know, the tickets were sold out hours after they were released. So it's a huge thrill for hockey fans to watch [Penguins forward Sidney] Crosby and [Senators forward Daniel] Alfredsson and others playing.

Q.  Are you aware of at least two teams, if you're available on July 1st, will make offers for your services, other than the Maple Leafs? I'm aware of two teams, at least, that will make significant offers for your services if you're not signed on July the 1st. What are your thoughts on potential free agency and entertaining a market you've never before entertained?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
It's all speculation. As I said, I couldn't answer that question right now. I think the biggest decision for me, that I have right now, is to make sure that I feel that I'm physically and mentally ready to train for another season to continue my career. And I think, number one, is to see what's going to happen with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And after that, I think we'll go from there. But obviously what's going to happen in Toronto is it's going to be very interesting. And it's going to affect my decision in the future.

Q.  Mark spoke about all the different qualities of leadership and why you won this award. We always talk about your no trades and free agency and stuff. Do those things have anything to do with leadership? We lump them together. Do you?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I don't know. I mean, in terms of talking about the trading deadline, I think the decision that I made was very personal, the right decision for myself. I know there's been a lot of players going to different teams at the deadline, and won Stanley Cups as kind of a rental player. I personally don't believe in that. And Mark Messier said he respected that as part of the leadership, another thing that he liked. But I don't know if that has anything to do with leadership in itself. But in situations like that, you try to make decisions from your own personal perspective, I guess.

Q.  Given how important July 1st is on the NHL calendar, do you have a personal timetable in terms of making a decision or, as you just said previously, you're waiting to see who gets hired to run the Leafs before you go forward?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I think, yeah, before anything, I think there's going to be a lot of things happening in Toronto. I don't have control, as I said. And who knows. First of all, for me to come back to Toronto, Toronto has got to show they really want me to come back, too. So we'll see what happens. I'm not in control of that. It's got to start there. I hopefully will know in the next month or so, I guess.

Q.  Do you have an indication or an idea, are you leaning closer towards retiring or returning and what would be your main motivation for returning next year?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
Well, we obviously had a struggle as a group and as a team this whole season in the past. I say that, though, like I said before, I think the League's closer than ever, and we see teams that went to the conference finals this year that were at the bottom of the League last year. So I think with small changes in improvement as a group, you can be a playoff team and have a chance to go far in the playoffs. And in terms of next year, personally, I felt very strong on the ice this year, and I felt I had as good of a year as I've had in my past 10 years, maybe. Maybe that would be an argument for me to play next year. But I don't know. I don't have a decision on that made yet.

Q.  With so many of the struggles that Peter Forsberg had this past year, deciding whether he wanted to play, he went back and forth and then decided late in the season he didn't want to give up the game. Does that give you pause when you're making your choice, that maybe right now you want to do something and then being afraid six months down the road you want to do something else?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I mean, I think that's something that all older players struggle with. When you get to the point -- I mean, we're obviously at the end of our careers. And you have a love of the game, and you feel that you still can contribute in a good way. So it's a tough decision. At the same time, you have to listen to your body and make sure you're able to do the job that you can on the ice. I think personally I want to be able to play at the level that I have the last little while, and I think -- I find it tough for me to have a smaller role or something on the team, too, to continue my career. So we'll see what happens.

Q.  Have you given any thought to what Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne did this year, taking off part of the season and coming back part way through?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
I haven't thought of that. Just my own feeling, I think I have to make a decision pretty soon. If I'm going to play in the next season and make sure that I get the training and all that in. So I don't think that would be an option for me, actually.

Q.  Nicklas Lidstrom is conceivably two wins away now from being the first European captain of an NHL championship. Is that as big an issue, you think, as people make it, and what are your thoughts?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
Well, he never stops amazing me. I think Nicklas Lidstrom arguably is one of the best defenseman that's ever played in the League. I mean, for him, as a European, they have a good chance. And if he would be that, that would be huge, I think. Huge for Swedish hockey, with so many Swedish players on the Detroit Red Wings, I think it would help open the doors for more younger Swedish players to get drafted and have a chance to compete at playing in the best League in the world.

Q.  A lot has been talked about today about the kind of leadership you've inspired. I'm curious in your career as a player, what players have inspired you, teammates you've had that you've looked up to?
   
MATS SUNDIN:
Well, the name that comes to mind right away is Doug Gilmour. It's an honor to play with him and a privilege. Joe Sakic, early in my career. I think watching those guys, I think, really helped me. Gary Roberts. Joe Nieuwendyk, lately, may be one that sticks out the most. They're the guys that impressed me both on and off the ice. I've been fortunate to play with all of them.
   
Q.    I'm just curious, from the last stretch that you guys had into the playoffs, what do you take out of that into this off season, and what do you think about when you just look back on what you guys did?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
I think it was a huge step for me and for my teammates. Especially when it was the last on offense, the end of the year, we won the division. It was really a good experience for us. In the playoffs, we just couldn't win the experience. We lost a 3-1 series. And we lost in over time. It was a great year for me and my team. But I hope next year will be better.

Q.  You've had a couple of impressive trophies there. Are you hoping to add another important one in June in Toronto?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
I will be happy. It would be a big honor for me, but if not, I'll be happy.

Q.  You and Sidney [Crosby] came into the League together, and you've become the faces of the NHL. What do you think of seeing him at this level here at the Stanley Cup Final?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
Well, I'm a little jealous. But he's a great player. They have a great team. And if you see when he was first in the playoffs, he lost in the first round 4-1, and right now he's in the playoffs, the playoffs Final. And I hope next year will be the same, and we'll be on the same page.

Q.  As time goes on, when you look back on this season, do you remember more that you finished first in goals and points than the fact that you were able to get the Capitals in the playoffs?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
I think it's not me. It's my team. And so coaches, players, all that stuff. For me it was great. We changed coaches. And with what happened in the League, we wasn't last. And after we just figure out what's going on, we just to, we say to each other, okay, it's only the beginning of the year. It's only 20 games. And we didn't catch it to go to the playoffs. And we didn't. So it's not about me, it's all about my team.

Q.  Alex, you had a chance to play with Cristobal Huet at the end of the season. How much impact did he have on your team, and how much do you hope he'll be back with the Capitals next year?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
You know, it's always great when you go and the goalie is good and we have three goalies: Olie [Kolzig] and Brent [Johnson] and Chris. And it was fun. It's great when you know you feel safe. And I hope they stay because Olie said he don't stay very much. So I hope he stays.

Q.  I want to ask about your relationship with Evgeni Malkin and what you thought of his season this year?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
We are friends, which is nice. I know he had an unbelievable year. And he's a leader in Pittsburgh, and he's had a tremendous year, and I wish him the best.

Q.  When you have the trophies sitting behind you, score 65 goals, when you look at the off-season, do you struggle to find things to improve your game on, or do you know where you have to go or what you have to do to even get better than what you were this year?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
Well, you know, it was a good year. But it was not my best year. With the Stanley Cup, I say it's my best year. I'm happy I take this Cup, but the biggest cup is not in my hands. Soon, probably (smiling).

Q.  There's going to be games this year in Czech Republic and Sweden and games the past couple years. What does that mean in Europe for the NHL product to go over there and allow Europeans to see meaningful games there in person? How much would you enjoy playing with your NHL team in Russia?
   
ALEX OVECHKIN:
Well, I think it's good for European people who don't know, don't see lots of NHL games. See us play Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin, [Sergei] Gonchar or [Dany] Heatley, I don't know who we played in Europe. But I think for me, for my country, it will be huge when NHL players, NHL superstars go to Russia, go to Moscow or some Russian city and play over there for a couple of games.