Is he the kind of of player, like Mark Messier, who can lead the Canucks over the hump?
The only connection between Messier and Sundin is the "leadership" award Messier bestowed on Sundin during last season's playoffs. Talk about shams.
Scott Burnside of ESPN, proving that writers are just as incapable of separating team performance from individual star players as they are from goalies.
Burnside sounds like he buys into the Messier leadership mythology, and trashes Sundin for being a selfish choker. What is leadership, though, really? Carrying your team, correct? Bearing the scoring burden, driving results while on the ice? I'd guess most people would talk about inspiring your teammates and making great locker room speeches and all that as well, but I think most people would agree the best place to be a leader is on the ice, and when it comes down to it they would take the guy out there dominating the game over a mediocre player who happens to be a great motivational speaker and everyone's best friend.
I'm going to use Messier's results from his first stint as a New York Ranger for comparison purposes, since that was when his legend as the "Greatest leader in sports" really grew. Look at the playoff results, and Sundin was carrying the Leafs just as much as Messier was carrying the Rangers. Probably even more so. Sundin scored 15% of Toronto's playoff goals, Messier just 12% of the New York's. Messier had an edge in points, having a hand in 34% of the Rangers' goals compared to 32% for Sundin, but Sundin missed 17 games due to injury while Messier missed just 2. Messier's overall PPG rate was higher (1.14 to 0.92), but he did it in a higher-scoring era with better teammates and probably more ice time.
If we look at plus/minus, Sundin destroys Messier. Sundin was +7 in the playoffs for Toronto, when the team as a whole was -88. Messier was -9 on Ranger teams that combined for a total of -1. If we figure that an elite forward plays 1/3 of the game, we would expect their plus/minus total to account for roughly one-third of their teams total. That total includes the minutes played by Sundin and Messier, so we can do a quick and dirty estimate of the "off-ice" plus/minus for each player by multiplying their plus/minus by 5 (since there are usually 5 players on the ice for an even-strength goal) and subtracting that from the overall team total, then dividing by 2/3 to factor out their ice time. I thereby estimate that the Leafs were around -30 goals at even-strength without Mats Sundin on the ice, and +7 with him on it, and that the Rangers were around +4 goals without Mark Messier on the ice and -9 with him on it. That is a very quick and dirty method, the assumptions aren't really completely correct and it doesn't account for the special teams factors that are one of the biggest problems with plus/minus, but it appears that the Moose isn't even in the ballpark compared to Mats.
Based on the results, then, someone like Burnside would have to argue that Messier inspired everyone else around him to be much better, while Sundin just couldn't get the rest of his team going. Maybe that's true, I don't know (isn't that the coach's job?), but when it came down to leadership by example Sundin looks pretty elite.
Leadership is supposed to mean, "Player who has great intangibles, carried his team and helped his teammates", but I think a lot of times it ends up really meaning, "Player who had a lot of team success." That is even more likely to be the case in the opposite scenario, i.e. for a player like Sundin who did not have a lot of team success. Apparently it is pretty much out of the question to call them a great leader, no matter how well they actually perform, just because their teammates weren't very good.
I don't think the Canucks are up there with the Wings or Sharks in terms of Cup favourites, but they were my pick to win the division before they got Sundin and they could be a dangerous team in the postseason. Is there any reason to expect that someone like Mats Sundin would not succeed if they were placed in a playoff pressure situation? Of course not. As the above numbers show, he did a pretty good job carrying the Leafs through a few playoff series. His record in international best-on-best games is 18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points in 30 games, which prorated to an NHL season would be 106 points. Every season in every team sport star players without a history of team success pull a Peyton Manning and finally win a championship, yet all the non-thinkers who were writing about their lack of leadership and lack of winning attitude and poor clutch play right up until the champagne celebration never seem to learn their lesson.