TORONTO -- It's been 18 years since Mats Sundin was moved from Quebec to Toronto in a blockbuster, franchise-changing trade. Throughout all this time, Joe Sakic admittedly has thought about one question.
What if the Nordiques never traded Sundin?
Would they have won that first-round series against the Rangers in 1995? Would they have gone on to more success in the playoffs that spring? Would the Avalanche have won the Stanley Cup more than twice? Would Sakic and Sundin have gone down in history as one of the greatest tandems of all time -- if not the greatest?
In a Hall of Fame career that featured well over 500 goals and 1,300 points, one of Matt Sundin's greatest privileges was to serve as Maple Leafs captain in a city where hockey was ingrained as a way of life. (Photo: Getty Images)
"You can only imagine what it could be like if he was on our team," Sakic said Monday morning at the Hockey Hall of Fame, where he, Sundin, Pavel Bure and Adam Oates will be enshrined forever at the evening's induction ceremony.
The people in Toronto can't even bring themselves to imagine what life would have been like had Cliff Fletcher never pulled the trigger on the Sundin blockbuster. It was a trade that sent the popular Wendel Clark to Quebec City but brought back a player in Sundin who would turn into the Maple Leafs' all-time leading scorer and their captain for 11 consecutive seasons from 1997-2008.
It was a trade that brought a new face of hockey to the city that can't get enough of the sport.
"What a tremendous captain," said Sakic, who wasn't too bad of a captain himself from 1995-2009 for the Quebec/Colorado franchise. "And he did it with nothing but class. He was a tremendous leader. What a hockey player.
"He had some great players [with him on the Maple Leafs] as well, but really when you thought of the Toronto Maple Leafs it was Mats Sundin. He really carried this franchise."
For Sundin, that was one of his greatest privileges, his greatest honors. He loved playing in Toronto and wearing the Maple Leafs sweater. He loved the passion and the highs that came with winning in this city.