Wednesday Editorial: Sundin versus Forsberg

Posted by curve in Columns,Editorials on December 17, 2008 — 2 Comments

With so much publicity being given to Mats Sundin over the past few months, I figure it is time to make the comparison of the two most talked about players over the past two seasons, who have actually hardly played at all.  That’s right; I feel like it is time to compare Peter Forsberg and his fellow countryman Mats Sundin.

Now, I know you are sick of all the Sundin news and are probably rolling your eyes at the recent admission by Forsberg that he wants to return to the NHL once again; but rest assured you are not alone.  I became tired of these continuous reports long ago; therefore, I figured it was time to put something together about Sundin and Forsberg that was at least somewhat interesting and not merely speculative.

Here is a comparison of two of the great players of the past fifteen years.

Stat lines

Before going further, I feel it is important to compare the two players’ careers in terms of NHL stats.

Forsberg: 706 games played, 249 goals, 636 assist, 885 points, +242, 686 pims.

Sundin: 1305 games played, 555 goals, 766 assists, 1321 points, +78, 1065 pims.

Aside from the fact that these are both very impressive stats lines, a few numbers stand out.  First off, Sundin is almost exactly a point-per-game player; whereas, Forsberg registers 1.25 points-per-game.    Secondly, Forsberg’s plus/minus rating is way ahead of Sundin’s, and remember, he has played just under 600 games less than his Swedish counterpart.  This is probably in part attributable to Forsberg playing with better linemates, but it’s not like Sundin played on poor teams earlier this decade.  Moreover, Forsberg was/is known as one of the best two-way centers of his time, so he gets the defensive edge.  The third stat that stands out is Sundin’s reliability.  He has never played less than 70 games in a full (excluding lockout) NHL season; whereas, Forsberg has only played more than 70 games in five NHL seasons.

With both Sundin’s and Forsberg’s stat lines established, it is easy to tell why so many teams were in on the Forsberg sweepstakes last season and why so many teams covet Sundin this season. 

Lack of a championship

While they both possess impressive stat lines, it is Forsberg’s two Stanley Cup rings that give him the career edge over Sundin. 

That is because if you look at how their numbers are affected come playoff time, they are eerily similar. 

Forsberg: 151 games played, 64 goals, 107 assists, 171 points, +54, 163 pims.

Sundin: 83 games played, 35 goals, 39 assists, 74 points, +3, 72 pims.

Looking more closely, Forsberg’s points-per-game falls by .12 in the playoffs as compared to the regular season.  Coincidentally (or may not), Sundin’s falls by the exact same .12 when the playoffs hit.

Considering it is more difficult to score goals in the playoffs, these players’ games really don’t drop off much.  They are both “big game” players, which, of course, is why so many teams have been/are interested in signing them.  So, aside from Sundin’s lack of a Stanley Cup ring, which is obviously a significant aside, these players both bring it at crunch time.

Who is better?

To me, Forsberg is better hands-down.  I base this opinion not merely on statistics, but on Forsberg’s incredible career accomplishments.  His ability to take his game to a level that few have reached in the NHL.  His championship resume is incredible, with two Stanley Cups, two World Championship, and two Olympic gold medals, there are few players a GM would want ahead of Forsberg for a big game.

That is not to look down upon Sundin’s career.  His consistency and ability to put up points with basically any linemates has been incredible.  He too has won an Olympic gold medal and has one upped Forsberg in terms of World Championship titles. 

So really, you can’t go wrong with these two.

So what is the catch?

The catch

Well, at the end of the day, we have seen Forsberg miss training camps and significant parts of seasons and still come back and play as if he never left.  So while we know Forsberg is injury prone, we at least know he can bring it whenever he suits up—regardless of whether he has played with the team all season or not.

In terms of Sundin, he has never played this few games in a season.  Moreover, he has never joined a team mid-season.  Will he have the effect on his team that Forsberg has had when he comes back mid-season?  It is possible, but it is certainly no guarantee.

Alas, that is where the risk lies with Sundin, because aside from that, his resume is pretty flawless.  Well, he is missing that Stanley Cup ring, but then again, if he had that, would we even be having this conversation?

For Illegal Curve, I’m Richard Pollock.