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Mats Sundin signs with Vancouver Canucks

Thursday, 18.12.2008 / 8:05 PM / Features
By Mike G. Morreale
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Mats Sundin signs with Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks announced Thursday that free-agent center Mats Sundin has signed a contract, ending months of speculation about if and where he would play this season.
Mats Sundin will continue his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks.

Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis announced Thursday that Sundin has signed a contract with the team. No terms were announced, though the Canucks made a big-money two-year offer during the summer.

"He's the total package," Gillis said in an interview on the Canucks' Web site. "He's a point-a-game guy, and he's been a team captain in a huge hockey market. He should be a great addition to our team. It's with great anticipation that you add a player of this quality to your group."

The 37-year-old Swede, an unrestricted free agent after playing 13 seasons with Toronto, was the talk of the offseason and throughout the first quarter of 2008-09, with much speculation about whether he would retire, play in his native Sweden or return to the NHL.

"He was really struggling with the idea of whether or not to play," Gillis said. "He wanted to make sure that he was capable of playing at the highest level and play up to the standards that he expected.

"You have to respect that. The fact that he didn't select (an offer) right away — his esteem grew in my eyes. The easiest thing to do would be to accept it and be non-committed, for the money. The fact that he refused to do that told me we had the right person to become part of this organization."

Sundin has scored 555 goals and added 766 assists in his 17 NHL seasons, and has 74 points in 83 playoff games. He had numerous offers after becoming a free agent on July 1. His agent, J.P. Barry, said last week that the Canucks and New York Rangers were the finalists.

"I am truly excited to be joining the Canucks," said Sundin, who joins fellow Swedish Olympic teammates Mattias Ohlund and Daniel and Henrik Sedin on Vancouver's roster. "Once I made the decision to return to play a few weeks ago, the Vancouver opportunity was simply the best overall fit. I want to thank Mike Gillis and the entire Canucks organization for their professionalism throughout this entire process."

The Canucks could have Sundin in the lineup pretty quickly. Gillis said Sundin should arrive on Dec. 27 and that "he's in terrific shape. He told me the other day that he feels better than he has in years."

Eight months have passed since Sundin concluded his 13th season with the Maple Leafs, and as many as 11 teams had expressed interest in his services since that time.

New Leafs General Manager Brian Burke all but closed the door on Sundin in late November. Burke said he spoke with Sundin and came away from the conversation feeling Sundin wanted to sign with a Stanley Cup contender, not a team in a rebuilding program like the Leafs.

"I don't think we fit the profile he is looking for," Burke said at his introductory news conference.

"There has been a lot of criticism of Mats Sundin for not making up his mind," Burke said. "Having been through this situation before, I do not agree with it. I'd rather have a guy who wants to make sure in his own mind of what he is doing, as opposed to a guy who plays (halfway) just to collect a paycheck."

On July 1, the first day of free agency, the Canucks offered Sundin a two-year, multi-million-dollar contract that would have made him the highest-paid player in the League. Instead, the nine-time NHL All-Star opted to take time and review all options.

Sundin, who had 32 goals and 78 points in 74 games to lead the Leafs in scoring for the fourth-straight season in 2007-08, said he actually enjoyed the time off and is anticipating a fresh start.

"It's been a pretty relaxing summer actually," Sundin told the Canadian Press in September. "I've tried not to think about it too much. I've just tried to get away from the game a little bit.

"The last few seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs have been tough years for us. I've actually been feeling pretty good about the situation that I've been in -- for the first time in a long time not being under contract and being able to really try to feel out what I want to do with my future."

Despite Sundin's offensive production last season, the Maple Leafs missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

"I felt great about playing hockey last year, but all that disappears when you're not having a winning season and when you're not competing in the playoffs because that's really all that matters," Sundin said.

Sundin scoffed at the trade rumors leading up to the Feb. 26 deadline last season, opting not to waive the no-trade clause in his contract. He said at the time he did not want to become a rental player, even when the Leafs fell from playoff contention.

Sundin, who underwent a physical exam in Toronto in September and was on a two-week conditioning stint in Los Angeles in November, admitted the decision whether to retire or continue playing was difficult. Now, all those worries can be put to rest.

In Sundin, the Canucks have landed a player who posted at least 70 points and played in at least 70 games in each of the last 12 seasons. He led the Leafs in points in each of those seasons with the exception of 2002-03, when Alexander Mogilny topped him by seven points. Sundin was named the 16th captain in franchise history in 1997, becoming the first European player in Maple Leaf history to earn that distinction.

At the conclusion of 2007-08, he was the second-longest active captain in the League behind Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.

Sundin began his career with the Quebec Nordiques, the team that chose him with the first pick in the 1989 Entry Draft, and was traded to the Leafs in 1994. The Nordiques sent Sundin, Garth Butcher, Todd Warriner and a first-round draft pick in '94 (Nolan Baumgartner) to the Leafs in exchange for Wendel Clark, Sylvain Lefebvre, Landon Wilson and a '94 first-round pick (Jeff Kealty).

On Oct. 14, 2006, Sundin became the first Swedish player to score 500 career goals when he beat Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff while shorthanded to give the Leafs a 5-4 overtime victory. He still holds Maple Leafs records for goals (420) and points (984).

Author: Mike G. Morreale