Billy Boucher, the last Canadien to wear sweater No. 13, photographed in 1924-25. The Canadiens wore the globe crest instead of a CH that season, celebrating their 1923-24 Stanley Cup "world championship" victory.
Rice Studios; Gazette files
So Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey seems headed to Sweden this week to chat with Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin to see whether there’s common ground to explore between organization and player.
Sundin, an unrestricted free agent a week from today, is talking exclusively with the Canadiens until he’s officially a UF, a right granted to Montreal late last week by Maple Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher, the man who acquired Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques 13 seasons ago.
If he signs a contract with the Canadiens, Sundin will become the second consecutive Leafs captain to ink a free-agent contract with Montreal. Doug Gilmour was the first.
The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs explores the Sundin case this morning, wondering whether the hulking Swede would fit the No. 13 Canadiens sweater. Last time that number was worn by a Hab was in 1921-22, when Billy Boucher, 5-foot-7 and 155 pounds, tugged it on for part of a season.
PUTTING ON LUCKY 13
Habs courting Maple Leafs captain Sundin: Sleeping with the enemy never looked so good
If the Canadiens do indeed sign Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin in the days ahead – the economically follicled Steve Bégin and Bryan Smolinski might sweeten the pot by sharing their Montreal hair-stylist’s phone number – look for equipment manager Pierre Gervais to be up to his armpits in mothballs.
Gervais will have to dig very deep in his trunk to find Sundin the No. 13 he’ll surely request, having worn that sweater throughout his 1,388-game NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques and Maple Leafs.
Of course, there’s a distinct possibility that the jersey Gervais finds won’t fit the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Sundin. The No. 13 was last worn in Montreal in 1921-22 by Billy Boucher, who was 10 inches shorter and 75 pounds lighter than the colossal Swede.
Boucher shared the No. 13 that season with fellow forward Edmond Bouchard. Only one other Canadien in the team’s 99-year history has worn it, winger Lorenzo Bertrand tugging it on in 1913-14 – three seasons before the birth of the NHL.
It is to understate the issue by suggesting that Leaf Nation will be unhappy should Sundin, the longtime face of their franchise, sign with the despicable Canadiens – this after he so selfishly (say his critics) refused to waive his no-trade clause at February’s trading deadline.
That Sundin wanted to finish the season as a Maple Leaf, his NHL home for more than 1,000 games, was viewed as disloyal by many Toronto fans, seen as a sign that he was standing in the way of the Leafs’ novel idea to rebuild.
Compounding Leafs fans’ misery: If Sundin signs here, that will make it the last two Toronto captains signed by the Canadiens. Remember Doug Gilmour?
If Gilmour in the CH took a little getting used to, neither imagination nor Photoshop can make Sundin look right in a Canadiens jersey. In old photos, he looks strange enough in the sweater of the Nordiques, with whom he broke into the NHL in 1990.
But the Canadiens crest and the bleu-blanc-rouge? This will look even loopier on Sundin than on Gilmour, who made Montreal his seventh NHL club from 2001-03 and played 131 regular-season games and another dozen in the 2001-02 playoffs.
Admit it: You loathed Killer when he was a Leaf, yapping and stirring it up, but you adored him as a Canadien. The same would apply with Sundin, less vocal but still an enormous thorn in the Habs side seemingly forever.
For now, you hate Sundin because:
• He led all Maple Leafs against the Canadiens in 2007-08 with seven points (two goals, five assists) in seven games.
• Against Montreal, he leads all Leafs in career games played (85), goals (32), assists (48) and points (80).
• He has collected more assists (48) vs. the Canadiens than any other NHL club.
• He earned his 1,300th career point Feb. 7 at the Bell Centre.
• He scored his 400th career goal Nov. 27 vs. Montreal at the Air Canada Centre.
Considering Sundin in the CH reminds me of the photo we published of Canadiens legend John Ferguson on Sept. 6, 2003, Fergy wearing a Maple Leafs jersey while in British Columbia, taking part in the Legends of the Game Fishing Classic.
Fergy had just learned his son, John Jr., had been named general manager of the Leafs. To celebrate, he playfully tugged on the Toronto sweater tossed to him by former Leafs defenceman Bobby Baun.
Event organizer Geoff Godden emailed us a photo of Fergy beaming in Baun’s No. 21, and we ran it with a story in which Fergy joked he had switched allegiance because of his son’s new job. Within six hours of publication, readers were accusing us of treason and, worse, of trickery – of digitally draping the Leafs jersey on Fergy who’d "just as soon use it as a car rag than wear it," one reader sniffed.
Fergy thought the heated reaction was the funniest thing he’d heard, even if he himself said he looked odd in a Leafs sweater.
But the bitter, year-round Montreal-Toronto rivalries of the late Fergy’s days are no more, the riches of free-agency having created skating mercenaries who hang together during the offseason on the golf course and banquet circuit.
Should Sundin sign with the Canadiens, assuming he decides to continue playing at all, it will be because it’s the best business decision for himself and for the club that sees him as the impact player he can be.
Nothing personal against Toronto. The same went for Gilmour, who’s back in the Leafs family as player development adviser.
Now, it’s Toronto’s 13-year No. 13 who is being courted down the 401. If Sundin signs with Montreal, Leafs fans will turn on him at the drop of Punch Imlach’s fedora.
But should Canadiens GM Bob Gainey be successful in laying out a welcome Mats as early as this week, the big Swedish lug will be given the run of our IKEA stores and forgiven of all sins.
Except, perhaps, for that horrible Chunky Soup commercial.
Mats Sundin, a Quebec Nordique in 1991, puts a move on Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy during a game at the Montreal Forum.
Denis Brodeur, NHLI via Getty Images