Report from Helsinki: McCabe says Sundin will have no problems getting into Hall

September, 30, 2009

HELSINKI -- Bryan McCabe played seven seasons with Mats Sundin in Toronto and saw firsthand what kind of player the sport lost today when the star Swede announced his retirement in Stockholm.

"He'll be an automatic, first-ballot Hall of Famer," McCabe told after tonight's preseason game against Jokerit. "He was a great player and one of the greatest leaders I've ever played with. It was an honor for me to play with him and to get to know him as a friend."

Sundin wore the "C" in Toronto and McCabe said rightfully so.

"He was unbelievable in the locker room," McCabe said. "Just the way he approached things on and off the ice. I know everyone looked up to him in that room. He always went out of his way to make everyone feel welcome. He always went out of his way to do things for the boys. He was a great guy to be around."

McCabe and Sundin starred on the 2002 Maple Leafs team that reached the Eastern Conference finals but was upset by Carolina.

"That was a great run, the best in my NHL career," said McCabe. "A few injuries and a few OT losses ... it could have been different. But it was a pleasure being involved in that with him. He's a guy that could carry a team on his back and he did that a lot for us."

Sundin and McCabe have kept in touch and the Panthers captain wishes he could have made the Big Swede's recent nuptials in Stockholm.

"Obviously he just got married and it was unfortunate timing for me because I didn't want to make two trips to Europe within a two-week span. ... But I think he'll be happy with his decision today. He had a great career. I think he's ready to move on to the next chapter in his life."

Tonight's game
Veteran winger Cory Stillman scored twice and the Panthers closed out their tiring preseason schedule with a 4-2 win over local side Jokerit at Hartwall Arena. Stillman's linemate, Michael Frolik, also scored. Along with center Steven Reinprecht, this could be a decent second line for the Panthers.

"We've been together right from Day 1 [of camp]," Stillman said after the game. "It takes a little bit of time. Have we had chances? Yes. It seems like we've had two or three chances a game and tonight we got rewarded. We don't have superstars on this team, so we need 2-3 lines to contribute and step up."

With No. 1 center Stephen Weiss nursing a slight groin problem, rookie Shawn Matthias centered the big line tonight between David Booth and Nathan Horton. You may remember Matthias was the prospect Florida received in the Todd Bertuzzi trade-deadline deal with the Florida Panthers two years ago.

More cuts
The Panthers made two more cuts to bring their roster to 24 players. Defenseman Christian Backman was released from his tryout, while forward Jeff Taffe will begin the season in AHL Rochester.

The story here is Backman. What's happened to this guy? He was a first-round pick, 24th overall, in the 1998 NHL draft by St. Louis. But after a promising start to his NHL career, he's really faded, making stops with the Rangers and Blue Jackets over the past two seasons before failing to make Florida's roster.

The Panthers will have to make one more cut next week after they get home to reach a 23-man roster.

The home side
Jokerit had a few names in its lineup that some of you puckheads may or may not remember.

Forward Jani Rita was a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (13th overall) in the 1999 NHL draft and played 66 NHL games; defenseman Antti-Jussi Niemi was Ottawa's fourth-round pick (81st overall) in 1996 and played 29 NHL games; defenseman Sami Helenius went in the fifth round (102nd overall) to Calgary in 1992 and played 155 NHL games; forward Jukka Hentunen was also a Flames pick (176th overall) in 2000 and he played 38 NHL games; defenseman Tom Koivisto was an eighth-round pick (253rd overall) in 2002 and played 22 NHL games.

When I was here last season for a preseason game between Jokerit and the Pittsburgh Penguins, I caught up with former Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon, who was coaching Jokerit. But his contract wasn't renewed after the season and he's now coaching Dynamo Minsk, a KHL team in Belarus. He also doubles as the national team coach for Belarus and we'll see him in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics in February.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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