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Canucks sign forward, re-sign backup goalie but waiting for Sundin decision

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VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks signed a journeyman forward and kept their backup goaltender Wednesday while they waited for centre Mats Sundin to decide if he would move to the West Coast.

The Canucks signed 32-year-old forward Ryan Johnson, who spent the last five seasons with the St. Louis Blues, to a US$2.3-million, two-year contract. The NHL team also re-signed netminder Curtis Sanford to a $650,000, one-year deal. Sanford, 28, is entering his second season in Vancouver.

But the biggest question surrounding the Canucks remained unanswered when Sundin, 37, said he hasn't made a decision on where, or if, it he will play next season.

Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis made the unrestricted free agent a $20-million, two-year offer on Tuesday. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Sundin's former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have also made him offers, but none match the money the Canucks are willing to spend.

Sanford played 16 games last season for Vancouver as a backup to Roberto Luongo. He had a 4-3-1 record and a 2.83 goals-against average.

Both Buffalo and the New York Rangers showed interest in the Owen Sound, Ont., native but he decided he'd rather stay with a team he knew rather than start over with a new club.

"I'm coming from a year where I forged a pretty good relationship with Roberto," Sanford said on a conference call. "To go and have to do it all again, I just think it would have been pretty tough.

"Vancouver still wanted me back. I don't know how much Roberto had to do with that but I think we get along really well. I'm just looking forward to being (able) to work with him again."

Sanford said he hopes to get some more starts this season. Being a backup to a workhorse like Luongo was an adjustment.

"It was difficult, I'm not going to lie to you," said Sanford. "I had come from playing a lot of games, even though I battled through injuries.

"It was different. It was something you embrace as a challenge. I just worked as hard as I could, I was a good teammate. I think that's what they were looking for. Someone that is going to work hard, be able to step in when needed, and be a good person. I think I was able to do all three of those things."

Johnson had five goals and 13 assists for St. Louis last season. His 105 blocked shots also was the most by a forward in the NHL.

The Canucks spoke with Johnson's agent just a few minutes after the free-agent market opened Tuesday.

"They just made me feel like it was important for them to have me there," said the six-foot-one, 185-pound Thunder Bay, Ont., native. "Also, their intention of putting a winning team together and have it happen immediately was interesting as well.

"You put all those things together and it was a place where I wanted to be."

Johnson, who was picked 36th overall by Florida in the 1994 draft, is expected to play on the fourth line and kill penalties.

Vancouver also announced Wednesday that defenceman Nolan Baumgartner and forward Alexandre Bolduc have agreed to contracts with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

Vancouver missed the playoffs last year for the second time in three years, resulting in the firing of general manager Dave Nonis. The Canucks scored just 213 goals last year. Only six NHL teams scored fewer.

Earlier this week, 25-year-old forward Kyle Wellwood accepted a $997,500 qualifying offer from Vancouver. He hopes to become a top-six forward with the Canucks after battling through groin injuries the last two seasons in Toronto.

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