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Sundin feeling at home with decision to join Canucks

by Dan Rosen /

"J.P. (Barry) presented me with a lot of different options of the teams that were interested in having me and I felt overall that Vancouver looked like the best fit for me."
-- Mats Sundin

Mats Sundin didn't decide until just over two weeks ago that he wanted to play in the NHL again. When he realized he did, the Vancouver Canucks became his choice team.

The Canucks were the first team to offer Sundin a contract July 1, a reported deal worth $20 million for two years. That stuck in his mind until Thursday, when he finally gave word to Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis that he wanted to be a Canuck.

"In the back of my mind I always had the response that we got on the first of July from Vancouver," Sundin said on a conference call Friday. "To me, it showed that I was a player they wanted in their organization and a player that could help the team. Once I told (agent) J.P. (Barry), I think Vancouver was the team in the back of my mind. At the same time, I really appreciate the job J.P. did. He presented the teams that were interested, but to me Vancouver was the first choice."

Sundin, who chose the Canucks over the New York Rangers and agreed to a one-year contract, said there was no timetable for when he would make his 2008-09 season debut. It won't be until after Christmas at the earliest.

"I haven't had a chance to talk to the coaches about what the timeframe is going to be," said Sundin, who has been training with a pro team in Sweden. "We'll have to see."

Sundin didn't want to sign a multi-year contract because he wants to give himself a chance to evaluate his play after the season before deciding if he will continue his NHL career beyond the 2008-09 season.

"It's pretty fair for myself and the organization as well to evaluate my own play, how I'm going to feel and what I can do out there," he said. "To me it feels like a good way to approach it and at the same time put some pressure on me to perform. I really like that. I hope it works out for Vancouver as well."

Sundin was initially worried that the players on the Canucks' current roster would balk at the idea of him joining the team halfway through the season. He understood that it was possible the players could look at him as a rental player swooping in to save a team that doesn't necessarily need saving. A conversation with Canucks defenseman and fellow Swede Mattias Ohlund put him at ease.

"I just wanted to get a feel of how the team felt of adding another player midseason and that they wanted met to come in and play for them," Sundin said. "I have been on a team and things change in the middle of the season and that affects what goes on in the dressing room. I wanted to get a feel for how the guys felt about it and it was very encouraging. I'm glad Mattias called me."

Still, Sundin admits working himself into the lineup seamlessly won't be easy.

"I definitely know it's not a perfect situation as a player," he said. "The players are in midseason form and it's going to be a challenge to make sure in the next few weeks that I push myself to make sure I'm in the best shape I can be in. That is something I have to get to work on right away.

"I'm happy that there were no players moving because I was joining the team. I want to come in and be a part of what the Vancouver Canucks are doing this year."

Had he chose the Rangers, New York GM Glen Sather would have had to move players either by trades, waivers or re-assignments to the American Hockey League in order to free up enough cap space to sign Sundin.

"J.P. presented me with a lot of different options of the teams that were interested in having me and I felt overall that Vancouver looked like the best fit for me," Sundin said.

There were other factors that weighed into Sundin's choice of Vancouver. For one, playing in Canada means a lot to him and Vancouver has always been one of his favorite cities to visit.

Sundin started his career with the Quebec Nordiques and after four seasons moved to Toronto, where he played for 13 seasons and set the Maple Leafs franchise record for career points with 987.

"I do enjoy living in Canada and knowing that Vancouver has great hockey fans, that is an environment I like," Sundin said. "I know people care about their hockey team and they get involved. I enjoy that kind of atmosphere."

He also feels the Canucks have enough talent, especially in goal with Roberto Luongo, to be a contender come playoff time. The Canucks entered this weekend tied for first in the Northwest Division with 39 points.

The Canucks also were tied for eighth in the League with 3.03 goals per game, a number that could go up once Sundin gets comfortable. Vancouver was sixth in the League in goals against, giving up 2.50 per game.

"Whether you're a free agent or whatever you are, to try to pick a team that is going to win the Stanley Cup is impossible," Sundin said. "I do know Vancouver has a good enough team to compete for the Stanley Cup and I'm really thrilled to get a chance to be a part of that team. Once you get to the playoffs, who knows what can happen?"

While the terms of the contract were not disclosed, Sundin did admit he left money on the table so Gillis still had some room under the cap to work should he want to add amend the roster again.
"The Vancouver Canucks and Mike Gillis have shown tremendous belief in me as a player and there was no doubt that if I could do anything to help the team that's what it would be. It was an easy decision." -- Mats Sundin
"The Vancouver Canucks and Mike Gillis have shown tremendous belief in me as a player and there was no doubt that if I could do anything to help the team that's what it would be," Sundin said. "It was an easy decision."

Sundin said the unknown created his desire to return to the NHL. At 37 years old, he realized time was running short.

"If I don't play this year it would have been hard for me to compete again at the highest level of hockey," Sundin said. "That made me decide I wanted to give it another run in the National Hockey League."

He didn't feel as though he was ready to go through the necessary training this summer to get himself ready for another NHL season.

"I know that things change and when the season stars and you start watching games," he said. "I'm 37-years-old and you don't know how long your career is going to be and once it's over it's over for the rest of your life."

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