Mats Sundin has ended the speculation and officially announced his retirement.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain made the announcement at a news conference in Sweden on Wednesday.
''It was just time, I think. Obviously, it's not an easy decision but I feel with body and soul right now, it's time to quit my professional career as a hockey player,'' said Sundin. ''I'm very glad that I played last season with the Vancouver Canucks and I think I needed that. But now with the season getting started again, it actually feels nice not having to practice every day and play games every other day so I think this is the right time for me.''
Sundin was drafted first overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 and made his NHL debut one year later. In his rookie campaign, he scored 23 goals and 59 points in 80 games. Prior to the 1994-95 season, Sundin was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster that included former Leafs' captain Wendel Clark heading to the Quebec capital. He finished his career with the Vancouver Canucks last season.
"I'm obviously very grateful for having a chance to play in the National Hockey League and represent the Quebec Nordiques, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks," said Sundin. "It has been a dream come true for me.''
While Sundin had his share of success - a Swedish league title, World Championships in 1991, '92 and '98, and an Olympic Gold in 2006 - he was never able to capture a Stanley Cup.
The 38-year-old leaves the NHL having amassed 1,349 points (564 goals, 785 assists over 1,346), ranking him 25th on the all-time list. However, Sundin is one of only five NHL players to have scored at least 500 goals and never played in a Stanley Cup Final but the eight-time NHL All-Star said the playoff success did not bother him.
"No, not really," chuckled Sundin when asked if he had regrets over not winning a Stanley Cup. "I don't feel bad. On the other hand, I had so much fun playing in the NHL and I experienced so much, I feel I got what I wanted from that league."
Sundin ranks fourth in points among European-born players and holds the records for goals (420), game winning goals (79), powerplay goals (124) and points (987) with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"I spent 13 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and I had the honour to be the captain for the most historic and greatest franchise in hockey history and it's also my second home," added Sundin.
"I learned so much from Mats, it was a pleasure playing with him," said current Maple Leaf Matt Stajan. "I don't think any of us who played with him could ask for a better guy to be our captain or leader."
"He was such a great Leaf, he had a great career, he could arguably go down as the greatest Leaf player ever," former Maple Leafs' general manager Cliff Fletcher told THE CANADIAN PRESS.
Sundin's success and dedication also impacted young players in Sweden.
"It didn't matter if the night before he got knocked out of the playoffs here, or if he had an injury or something, he was always there when the national team needed him," explained Stockholm native Viktor Stalberg. "He's been a great role model, not only for me, but for a lot of young Swedish players."
He was the first European to be selected with the top overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft when the Quebec Nordiques drafted him in 1989.
Edmonton Oilers head coach Pat Quinn, who coached Sundin in Toronto, spoke highly of the player who captained the team while he was there.
"For me, it was a great experience to have him as a player on the team that I was involved with," said the former Leafs head coach. "He's a gentleman, he's a wonderful athlete, he was a good captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs and certainly an honest, everyday performer who was very dependable."
"He probably was underrated," offered Quinn. "He wasn't a major top scorer and that maybe wasn't because he couldn't do it but because he tried to do things that were important to winning at the end of the day."
Current Leafs' president and general manager Brian Burke conveyed the thoughts of the Leafs' organization in a statement.
"The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club would like to congratulate Mats Sundin on a tremendous playing career in the National Hockey League," said Burke.
Note: Some answers translated from Swedish by Svenska Dogbladet reporter Janne Bengtsson